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Countrywide hits back at shareholder opposition

The estate agent has re-scheduled a shareholder vote for January 26 and reiterated its support for a buyout bid from 3i.

UK-listed buyout firm 3i has just nine days to persuade shareholders that its proposed £978 million (€1.49 billion; $1.92 billion) offer for estate agency group Countrywide is a fair one, after the company re-scheduled its shareholder vote on the bid for January 26.
 
In a letter to shareholders, Countrywide chairman Christopher Sporborg strongly reiterated the board’s “unanimous” support for 3i’s proposed buyout, and hit back at criticism from “a small minority of shareholders” who have argued that the offer undervalues the company.
 
Boussard & Gavaudan, fellow hedge fund Artisan Partners and asset manager Standard Life have been leading the opposition to the deal, which is now worth 568.7 pence per Countrywide share, or £978 million in total.
 
3i, which needs to win at least 75 percent of the shareholder vote in order for its bid to be accepted, was forced to ask Countrywide to postpone Monday’s vote, so it would have more time to appease the dissident shareholders. As of last weekend, only 33 percent of shareholders had voted in favour of the deal.
 
However, so far the buyout firm has categorically ruled out the prospect of increasing its bid.
 
Sporborg’s letter stressed the importance of voting, “to ensure that the outcome… fairly reflects the wishes of shareholders and undue weight is not given to the wishes of a small minority of shareholders.” If shareholders had already voted, they were still entitled to change their mind, he added.
 
Sporborg also reiterated that no other offer was on the table for Countrywide, and warned shareholders that the company would not borrow money to make a special dividend payment if the bid failed.