Terry Murden: Dana chief's gain is Scotland's loss if Koreans take over

IT LOOKS like Tom Cross is about to become a very wealthy man. As chief executive of Aberdeen oil explorer Dana Petroleum he stands to earn £29 million if South Korea's national oil company (KNOC) comes up with a bid. Those close to the situation reckon the firm will command a hefty 40 per cent premium on Thursday's closing price, or about £16.45 a share, which would give Cross his enormous payoff for the 1.9 per cent stake he holds.

The Koreans certainly have enough money in the bank to fund an offer, probably all-cash. KNOC wants to double its worldwide production from 130 million barrels a day to 300 million by 2012, but has suffered a few setbacks in trying to achieve that through foreign acquisitions.

KNOC's global ambitions were helped by last year's acquisition of Canada's Harvest Energy which helped establish international opinion towards Korea's energy expansion. With a budget of $6.5bn for this year alone it will not be seriously restricted in tempting shareholders of modestly sized businesses such as Dana and will be encouraged by recent share price falls.

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Of course, selling Dana to the Koreans would mean Scotland losing another of its sizeable businesses to outside control.

But does it represent a blow to the country's attempts at building indigenous companies of scale? Well, of course it does. It ain't easy building billion-pound businesses and Scotland has to be grateful when it gets one or two. The time taken to sell them doesn't compare to the work that goes into creating them.

But let's not forget that the operational business usually remains and benefits from the extra firepower provided by a new and bigger owner.

In the North Sea sector there is a renewed optimism surrounding the recent Catcher discovery, one of the biggest developments in the region's history, which we assess on page five.

There is also a new round of M&A activity in the industry and in the North Sea region which is an encouraging indicator of future growth prospects

Jury out on Forth Port's thwarted deal

IT IS difficult to work out who got the better of the aborted takeover of Forth Ports, owner of seven facilities in Scotland and England, including Leith, Rosyth, Grangemouth and Tilbury.

The board was having none of it when in March the Northstream consortium - a combination of ports operator and infrastructure funds - announced its intentions. Forth forced its suitor to raise its bid twice before Northstream walked away from a third and likely killer punch. Inevitably the shares fell back, but Forth's board insisted its investors are in for the long haul and that they would not be forced into selling the company short.

A pre-close trading statement last week appeared to have vindicated that position. It reckons results will be ahead of expectations and that the 400 acres of land in Leith will prove lucrative once the property market recovers.On top of that it has some new planning approvals and is hopeful that its project to build biomass plants, a joint venture with Scottish & Southern Energy, will go ahead. There was even some positive news on lettings at Ocean Terminal with fashion firm H&M confirming plans to open in the shopping mall.

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With a cross-section of businesses producing good earnings potential, Forth looks to be well-positioned for growth and is again attracting the eye of investors.

Northstream, whose principal players included Peel Ports' and Celtic football club director Tom Allison, was said to have been surprised that Forth rejected its advances and risked seeing the share price fall. It is still well short of the 1400p level reached in March, but the fall follows the broader market decline. With Northstream still holding more than a quarter of the company it won't lose out on any upside and may yet fancy its chances of having another tilt at a takeover in due course.

Belhaven cheer for Greene King

WITH pubs and breweries closing due to a combination of smoking bans, supermarket discounts and big company efficiencies, it is heartening to note that Dunbar-based Belhaven is thriving under Greene King's ownership. Profits were already healthy as an independent but have improved further under GK as it has stuck to its tried and tested values. I'll drink to that.