Countrywide backs Apollo bid(2)

Shareholders in Countrywide, a UK estate agency, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Apollo Management’s £1.05 billion offer today. The US buyout firm had been forced to sweeten its bid yesterday to fend off an eleventh hour approach from an unnamed suitor – reportedly UK group 3i.

US buyout firm Apollo Management’s take-private bid for Countrywide, a UK-listed estate agency chain, moved one step nearer completion today, after shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of its £1.05 billion (€1.54 billion; $2.09 billion) offer.

Bairstow Eves – part of the Countrywide group

At a shareholder meeting today, 98.1 percent of votes cast were in favour of Apollo’s bid, well above the 75 percent level required. However, the vote still needs to be approved by the courts on May 1, meaning other bidders still have a fortnight to return with a higher offer.

Apollo had been forced to increase its offer yesterday after an unnamed bidder tried to hijack the deal with an audacious eleventh hour bid. In a regulatory news statement, the buyout firm said only that the Countrywide board had received “a conditional and non-binding proposal from a third party in relation to a possible competing offer.”

According to Reuters, this mystery bidder was 3i – the listed UK buyout firm that had an offer for Countrywide rejected by shareholders in February.

The intervention forced Apollo to increase the cash component of its bid from 510 pence per share to 530 pence, valuing the business at £1.05 billion.

Only 52 percent of shareholders voted at today’s meeting. Surprisingly the non-voters included US hedge fund Polygon, Countrywide’s biggest shareholder with a 26 percent stake, according to Bloomberg.

Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank advised Apollo and provided debt finance along with Goldman Sachs. Hawkpoint advised Countrywide.

At 13:30 BST, Countrywide shares were trading down three pence at 622 pence, giving the company a market capitalisation of £1.06 billion.