"This is a business well-positioned for recovery (with] good levels of gearing"
FORTH Ports chief executive Charles Hammond yesterday defended the board's decision to reject three takeover approaches, saying the company was "well positioned" for the UK's economic recovery.
Speaking after the annual general meeting in Edinburgh, Hammond said he was "excited" about growth prospects and stressed it was poised to grow during the UK recovery.
He said plans to develop land holdings – including the regeneration of the port of Leith – and the building of wind turbines and bio-mass plants would generate shareholder value.
His comments came as the board reported a near 30 per cent year-on-year rise in volumes at Tilbury, near London, and that business and cost controls had boosted performance at the firm's Scottish ports.
It owns seven ports in Scotland, including Leith, Rosyth and Grangemouth.
The UK Takeover Panel issued a "put up or shut up" notice on Thursday, instructing the Northstream consortium to either make a formal offer or walk away before 1 June.
Northstream – which consists of Peel Ports Holdings, Deutsche Bank's RREEF infrastructure fund, and Arcus, the infrastructure arm spun out from Australian investment firm Babcock & Brown – has made three approaches for the Edinburgh ports and property group.
The most recent – at 1,400p a share – valued Forth at about 643 million but was rejected on Wednesday by the board, which said it "falls far short of the value" of the business.
Hammond told The Scotsman: "Almost all our major shareholders have been long-term and they understand the nature of the asset base we've got, the robust nature of the business and variety of opportunities we have through property, renewable energy and recycling.
"They also understand this is a business well-positioned for recovery because it has good levels of operational gearing, which have improved in the past couple of years. These are all ways we can drive shareholder value."
He said the board was "very comfortable" in rejecting the three approaches.
One shareholder in Forth Ports, said: "I am very happy with the board's strategy. I think one of the company's main assets is its land but you have to develop that over a long term basis.
"I can understand why the bids are being made because if they could get it at that price then they would be getting a very good deal."
Shares in Forth closed unchanged at 1,347p.
Meanwhile, the Unite trade union claimed a takeover of Forth Ports by the Peel-led consortium would be "anti-competitive" as Peel owns Clydeport.
Julia Long, Unite national officer for docks and waterways, said the union had met with five Labour MSPs worried about a potential takeover.
"Our main concern is for our 700 members who are fearing their jobs and conditions will be on the line," Long said.
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