Market suggests counter bid for Laing

Dealers have continued to speculate that other interested parties might enter the race to take over private finance specialist John Laing.

On September 19 fund manager Henderson made a £887m (US$1.65bn) recommended offer for the group, which operates Chiltern Railways and several other private finance backed projects.

This marks Henderson’s first major foray into this sector, having raised €830m (US$1.05bn) for its second infrastructure fund on its first closing date. That gives Henderson €1.3bn of infrastructure funds in all.

The fund manager’s offer for Laing values the company at 355p a share. However, Laing’s shares have remained stubbornly above that level since then, suggesting that other predators might put in alternative offers.

Henderson had only managed to secure irrevocable undertakings from shareholders representing 24% of the total amount of shares.

Names suggested included Macquarie Bank, and Groupo Ferrovial, the successful Spanish bidder for BAA.

Another financial bidder touted was UK private equity group 3i. Mike Sibson, a director in 3i’s oil, gas and power team, said that the group has recently raised a separate infrastructure fund, in conjunction with Barclays and SG and was “close to making a second investment”.

Private finance specialist Innisfree was also touted. Some analysts dismissed the talk, pointing out that Laing’s largest shareholder Legal & General, with a 15% stake, has already accepted the offer. More significantly, Laing must pay a £8.9m fee to Henderson if it does not proceed with the offer.

Greenhill is acting as financial adviser to Laing and Rothschild is performing the same role for Henderson, with assistance from JPMorgan Cazenove.