Money

US fund joins bidding war for Signature Aviation


Battle over historic British firm Signature Aviation intensifies as co-owner of Gatwick airport gatecrashes Bill Gates’s takeover with counter bid

  • US giant Global Infrastructure Partners is offering shareholders 405p per share in cash 
  • It eclipses the 380p per share or £3.2billion offered by a consortium of Gates and Blackstone last week
  • Signature’s board threw its support behind GIP, with chairman Sir Nigel Rudd saying the bid offered ‘attractive and certain value’

The battle over historic British firm Signature Aviation intensified yesterday as the co-owner of Gatwick airport gatecrashed Bill Gates’s takeover with a £3.4billion counter bid. 

US giant Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) is offering shareholders 405p per share in cash for the private jets provider, eclipsing the 380p per share or £3.2billion offered by a consortium of Gates and Blackstone last week. 

Signature’s board threw its support behind GIP, with chairman Sir Nigel Rudd saying the bid offered ‘attractive and certain value’. 

In front: Signature's board threw its support behind GIP, with chairman Sir Nigel Rudd (pictured) saying the bid offered 'attractive and certain value'

In front: Signature’s board threw its support behind GIP, with chairman Sir Nigel Rudd (pictured) saying the bid offered ‘attractive and certain value’

But as speculation grew that Gates-owned Cascade and Blackstone could return with another offer, and private equity firm Carlyle’s interest was also confirmed, the firm kept its options open. 

‘Nothing precludes either Blackstone and Cascade or Carlyle from making an offer proposal that the board of Signature Aviation will consider,’ Signature said in a statement. 

The bidding war left investors rubbing their hands with glee and sent the company’s shares surging 7.3 per cent, or 29.5p, to 435.5p. 

But it also underlined fears about ‘pandemic plundering’, with GIP’s offer just the latest example of a foreign firm swooping on a British company in recent months. 

As the Covid-19 crisis has sent the UK stock market tumbling, lower share prices have made UK firms look like bargains to overseas buyers. New York-based GIP had previously made a smaller offer for Signature in December but this was rejected. 

The firm said its latest bid represented a 51 per cent premium on the FTSE 250 company’s closing price on December 16, before takeover offers emerged. 

Adebayo Ogunlesi, the chairman of GIP, said: ‘We believe that our firm offer is both strategically compelling and financially attractive for all shareholders.’ 

Signature is the world’s largest services provider for private and business jets and can trace its history back to 1879, when it was founded by Walter Willson Cobbett as a manufacturer of drive belts. Gates has been a shareholder since 2008 through his investment vehicle Cascade and joined Blackstone’s bid for the company last week. However, if GIP’s takeover goes ahead he would still receive £638m for his 19 per cent stake. 

Meanwhile, Signature’s takeover would be just the latest sale of a historic British company overseen by Rudd. Dubbed ‘the man who sold Britain’ by critics, the 74-year-old City grandee has presided over a string of controversial deals. 

They include the sale of glass maker Pilkington to Japan’s Nippon Sheet Glass in 2006, the part-sale of engineer Invensys to Germany’s Siemens in 2012 and the sale of the rest of Invensys to France’s Schneider Electric in 2013. Rudd said: ‘We believe that the offer from GIP represents an attractive and certain value in cash today for 

Signature shareholders.’ Signature’s shares have jumped by more than 60 per cent in value since the first takeover offers were revealed in December.

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