More time for takeover talks

THE Takeover Panel made the first extensions to its new “put up or shut up” deadline imposed on buyers of UK companies yesterday, granting several potential bidders more time to put their proposals together.

Entertainment rights company Coolabi, the home of children’s TV favourite cat Bagpuss, is one of four firms that have been granted more time for buyers to formalise their bids.

Coolabi is currently being eyed by North Promotions and said it needed the extra time to progress items such as due diligence and tax advice, “to the satisfaction of North and the independent directors”. It has been granted until 31 October.

The Panel’s new rule is designed to stop predatory bidders from putting takeover targets under siege for long periods because of the uncertainty and disruption it causes businesses.

It has set a 28-day deadline for bidders to either table a formal offer or leave all bidding for six months.

The rule is already having an effect on bidding behaviour. Last week Joe Lewis, the billionaire shareholder of Mitchells & Butlers, withdrew his 230p-per-share for the pub group within days of breaching the Panel deadline.

Others given extensions were insurance broker THB, which has been given until 14 November to negotiate its sale to US wholesale broker AmWINS; Merchant Securities, which expects an offer from South African group Sanlam; and Travelzest, in talks with Red Label Vacations.

“Certain aspects of the possible transaction need to be concluded before Sanlam can announce a firm intention to make an offer,” Merchant Securities said in a statement.

The deadline was brought in after the controversial £11.6bn takeover of chocolate maker Cadbury by US group Kraft in 2010. Cadbury chairman Sir Roger Carr said at the time the board had been weakened by the drawn-out bid process.

Meanwhile, Omega Insurance and its potential buyer Canopius said they were still discussing the detail of its offer with key shareholders.