WILLIAM HILL TALKS NEXT WEEK?
14th August, 2016 at 07:24:45
Will 888 and Rank up the ante?
The UK media were in speculative mood over the weekend on the possibilities of William Hill
agreeing to talk turkey with potential acquirers 888 Holdings and Rank Group.
Several publications pointed to media comments by executives from the two companies which indicated a determination to press ahead with the bid and if necessary consider offering a higher price.
Will Hill chairman Gareth Davis earlier spurned a 364p-a-share joint offer - a 16% premium on the Will Hill share price - dismissing it as "highly opportunistic", too complex, "laughable" and "substantially" undervaluing the business.
"Quite frankly I think shareholders should flog me if I had discussions on the basis of this offer," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
Despite an early display of a willingness to negotiate, 888 boss Itai Freiberger warned that there were limits, telling the newspaper:
"We're not going to pay any price to get it done and at some point we will have to walk away."
Rank CEO Henry Birch agreed, suggesting that there was nothing to stop 888 and Rank merging if a William Hill bid failed again.
Under stock exchange Takeover Panel rules, the suitors have until the end of this week to make a firm offer or walk away, although extensions are possible if an agreement looks possible.
Davis still appears open to some wheeling and dealing, saying that he has not ruled out engaging with Rank and 888, but setting the scene with the comment:
"It would have to take a substantially bigger offer, and a bigger premium, and a bigger pay-off for the William Hill shareholders".
Davis also applied a little pressure by referring to speculation that a rival bid for William Hill may be in the wings from private equity group CVC (owner of SkyBet), and commenting that there could be advantages in striking a deal with an overseas gambling company that would reduce William Hill's reliance on the highly competitive UK market.
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