TAKEOVER fever has gripped the Australian sharemarket without a single bid actually being launched.
Echo Entertainment and Fairfax Media could soon be in play as billionaires James Packer and Gina Rinehart increase their stakes in the companies; yesterday rumours swirled Ms Rinehart had lifted her share in Fairfax above 13 per cent and may be intending to go to 19 per cent.
But, after heavy losses on the market in the past three months, cashed-up raiders appear to be preparing to launch attacks on other weakened companies struggling with the downturn.
On the back of Qantas appointing a defence mandate for a yet-to-be-announced offer and news of a possible privatisation of Whitehaven Coal, speculation about the intentions of the suitors has put a rocket under their weakened share prices.
Yesterday, Perpetual Investments became the third company in as many weeks to fall victim to rumours that a private equity firm was circling for a buyout.
Its shares rose 9.8 per cent, the biggest gain since August 26, after newspaper speculation that Perpetual’s board could be approached with an offer in the $30 range.
Perpetual’s shares rose to $23.77 in the morning, up from $21.64 the night before.
The unusual price movement prompted a letter from the Australian Securities Exchange demanding to know if the company was aware of information that ought to have been announced to the market.
”Is the company aware of any information concerning it that has not been announced which, if known, could be an explanation for recent trading in the securities of the company?” the letter said.
”In answering this question, please address today’s press report about a private equity firm preparing to approach the company.”
But Perpetual told the ASX it was not aware of any information relevant to the article and that it had no reasons to believe that the article was ”anything other than mere speculation”.
A spokesman later reiterated that point: ”We have nothing to add to the statement we issued to the stock exchange today.”
In late 2010, Perpetual knocked back a takeover offer worth $38 to $40 a share from the private equity firm KKR.
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