plays a canny long game WHATEVER else is said about John Whittaker, the enigmatic chairman of Peel Holdings, he knows how to play the long game, which helps explain why his agreed bid for Clydeport emerged last Monday without the speculative murmurings that usually pre-empt such takeovers.
Peel first appeared on the Clydeport shareholder register with 3% as far back as July 2001 and the Manchester property group went largely unnoticed when it raised the stake to 5% six months later.Peel
went to a more menacing 8.1% earlier this year but, frankly, the City had given up trying to second-guess Whittaker's intentions for Clydeport long before last week's announcement.
The directors of both companies can congratulate each other on keeping the £184m deal such a closely guarded secret - no mean feat. Peel
had held a similar stake in Mersey Docks & Harbour Company
for five years during the 1990s and despite takeover speculation from time to time it eventually sold out.
The surprise is not so much that the Glasgow-based port and property group has capitulated to the advances of Whittaker
but that it has relinquished its independence so willingly.
But for Whittaker
to describe it in the Scottish press last week as "excellent news for Scotland" was self-serving nonsense, hugely overstating the motives of a consummate dealer who has, quite simply, spotted a cracking deal. Whittaker
also described it as a "perfect marriage".
But it should be noted that Whittaker
, who rarely talks to the press, has probably said as much publicly in the past week as he
had in the previous year. Peel
, which not so long ago resided uneasily on the main stock market, is now quoted on the Alternative Investment Market.But since its chairman controls such a huge majority of its shares the company is effectively a private concern in all but name and as such avoids any real, searching City scrutiny.
recognises the sensitivities surrounding the loss of yet another Scottish plc from the stock market and one, what's more, with its £500m Glasgow Harbour project, which is critically important to that city's waterfront regeneration.
All very comforting but it will be interesting to see in the future whether Whittaker
will be quite so accessible and keen to talk about Clydeport's activities.
If the deal is completed, Peel
may indeed become a benign parent to its Glasgow subsidiary.For now, it is impossible to judge.So far the only thing that is "perfect" about this corporate coupling is Peel's timing. Whittaker
is offering a "generous" 440p a share for Clydeport, a 20% premium to the closing price before the announcement but actually slightly less than the Glasgow company's shares earlier this year.
Real estate, rather than ports, was the main driver of Clydeport's shares but we know what has happened to the stock market this year while commercial property is showing signs of coming off the boil.
It's no surprise that Clydeport's shares had slipped of late but that should not detract from the bumper profits the company will eventually earn from Glasgow Harbour.After all, property is a long game.Is Whittaker
the only player capable of playing it with Clydeport?
is offering 440p a share, then he
has identified value that the stock market has missed but surely not the Clydeport management
or its most loyal shareholders.Perhaps they should cast their minds back to the 1980s when Whittaker
was involved personally in one of the most bitterly contested bids - Manchester Ship Canal Company
was eventually subsumed into Peel
in the 1990s with the landholdings that would eventually be developed into the giant Trafford Centre.That regional shopping mall is pretty much responsible for Peel's
£454m market value and of course Whittaker's considerable wealth.
, no one is expecting a counterbid from the ports sector but why not one from a property developer?As it stands, the deal on the table looks altogether too easy.Excellent news for Scotland?
More like excellent news for John Whittaker
plays a canny long game
COMMENT: Scots firms slip off the map