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January 24: It finally happened. After years of speculation, BOC has at last admitted it has received a takeover approach from Linde of Germany. The British gases group rejected the proposal – thought to be £15 a share – as too low and too conditional, even though it represents a premium of about 30 per cent. Its stock is up 20 per cent at £13.86. Industrially, the deal makes sense: this is the last big combination of its type possible, so this will all be about price. If Linde can come up with the right number – and not everyone is sure it can – that would make BOC the latest in a very long list of British companies being taken over by overseas groups. And this in the week that Radio Four drops its UK Theme.
Vodafone today reported strong customer growth but said its average revenue per user fell sharply in Germany, Italy and the UK – three of its main markets. Chief executive Arun Sarin, who is under heavy fire from investors over the group’s performance, resisted calls to sell Vodafone’s 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless, although I thought his language on this was softer than on previous occasions. Sarin was able to maintain his earnings guidance for this year. We’ll see what investors have to say this afternoon, but the stock is off 2½ per cent. Read the full statement or catch Lex online.
WH Smith shares are off a touch after reporting weaker than expected Christmas sales but having managed to improve margins.
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