In brief top news

France Telecom has hired an investment bank, thought to be Lazard, to advise it on what might turn out to be an €850m sale of Orange in the Netherlands. Both trade and financial bidders could emerge. Orange Nederland is the smallest mobile phone operator in the Netherlands behind KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile. KPN would probably not be allowed to buy the unit outright on competition grounds, while Vodafone has been exiting its smaller operations in the mature markets of Europe. Analysts, however, think Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile might be a buyer.

  • Kop Football Ltd, an acquisition vehicle jointly controlled by George Gillett Jnr and Thomas O Hicks, has agreed to acquire Liverpool Football Club for an enterprise value of £218.9m. Liverpool has been advised by PricewaterhouseCoopers and PKF.
  • Carlyle Group has announced the sale of its 10.3% stake in QinetiQ to institutional investors for £140m. Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Cazenove and Merrill Lynch were bookrunners on the share placement. In 2002, Carlyle bought a 33% stake in QinetiQ for £42.5m and then sold about £160m worth of shares last year when QinetiQ was controversially floated on the LSE. The latest Carlyle exit raises the question whether the UK’s Ministry of Defence will also sell down some of its 18.93% stake in QinetiQ.
  • The board of SIG Holding, the beleaguered Swiss manufacturer of beverage cartons and packaging equipment, said it would not make a recommendation regarding the SFr400 per share takeover offer made by a bidding vehicle controlled by a consortium of Norwegian packaging firm Elopak and CVC Capital Partners, but noted that it rejected a rival offer from New Zealand firm Rank Group Holding. CVC Capital Partners and Elopak had launched a hostile SFr400 per share bid, exceeding Rank’s offer of SFr370 in cash per share for SIG. Furthermore, the board said that to the best of its knowledge no other bidders remained in the auction process.
  • Real estate firm Countrywide has confirmed that it has received a fresh preliminary approach for the company, from a party unconnected with 3i Investments, Charlie Holdco 4 Ltd or its executive directors. Countrywide, the UK’s biggest estate agent and owner of the Bairstow Eves estate agent chain, last month announced that it had failed to get the required majority in favour of the 3i-backed management buyout offer and the scheme had therefore lapsed. Now, US buyout firm Apollo is planning a £950m bid for Countrywide. The report said Apollo had been preparing its move for several weeks, had held talks with Countrywide investors and had been in conversation with the estate agent’s board. The emergence of Apollo’s interest comes just 10 days after rebel investors foiled a management buyout of the company backed by 3i.