RBS tries to unclog ABN auction

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Today is a monster news day, led once again by the battle for ABN Amro. Royal Bank of Scotland, perhaps emboldened by yesterday’s rowdy shareholder meeting, has threatened a hostile bid in an attempt to put pressure on ABN’s supervisory board to allow an honest auction. RBS’s chances improved this morning with news that an Amsterdam court considered sympathetic to shareholder rights has agreed to break with its normal schedule to hear demands tomorrow from the Dutch shareholders’ association, VEB. It wants a freeze of ABN’s sale of LaSalle to Bank of America. It’s going to be an interesting weekend.

Bid fever continues to infect the drinks industry. Carlsberg seems to be preparing to get together with Scottish & Newcastle – the Carlsberg foundation has applied to change its charter to allow it to loosen its control of the Carlsberg brewing business. As FT Alphaville says: probably the best M&A signal in the world. The two would fit very well together. S&N shares are up 6 per cent.

Deal-wise, we also have National Express making another acquisition in Spain. It is buying Continental Auto, a bus and coach operator, for £449.7m (€659.3m) cash. There is little overlap with Alsa, the Spanish bus service it bought in 2005.

And things seem to be hotting up in the battle for Bodycote. Sulzer raised its offer again today (its fifth or six attempt) but was turned down. We think the Swiss will go hostile.

Sir Julian Horn-Smith, one of the architects of Vodafone, has stepped down as chairman of the Sage software group after less than a year. Intriguingly, he cited ”differences in culture and style”. Also, Peter Winkworth, finance director of Close Brothers for more than 30 years in the role, is retiring.

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