Terry Murden: Bowleven shares soar on bid rumours - yet again

Kevin Hart owns �3m worth of shares in Bowleven. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Kevin Hart owns �3m worth of shares in Bowleven. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SHARES in the Edinburgh oil and gas explorer Bowleven shot up on Friday as it was again linked to a potential bid, this time from Dubai-based Dragon Oil.

There was talk of an offer in the region of 200p a share, valuing the company at £600 million, which would represent a healthy premium on the 74p close on Thursday night and 58p before Christmas, though short of their 414p high this time last year.

We have been here before, of course. Two years ago, the company was in takeover talks with a mystery bidder which was eventually revealed to be PTT, the state-owned company in Thailand. The talks were aborted after the putative 150p a share bid was curiously scaled back and the Thai firm failed to agree on whether to go ahead.

Bowleven, whose chief executive, Kevin Hart, has been hoping to emulate the success of his former Cairn Energy boss Sir Bill Gammell, subsequently went to shareholders to raise funds.

One way or another, he’s not had it quite so easy as his mentor and probably needs a partner to push ahead with exploration off Cameroon, in West Africa. It is an area proving popular with other explorers, notably Tullow Oil, which was also linked with a bid for the Scottish company.

The pattern emerging, however, is for government-backed companies to pounce on western assets. The Korea National Oil Corporation bought Aberdeen-based Dana Petroleum and Dragon is 52 per cent owned by Emirates National Oil Company, ultimately in the hands of the government of Dubai.

Cost cuts win a seat on board

AEGON UK boss Adrian Grace has been elevated to the board of its Dutch parent as a reward for slashing costs at the Edinburgh-based insurer, which counts 2011 as its annus horribilis.

Grace has a new focus on the 50+ and workplace savings markets and believes he is now in the driving-seat. But sceptics remain to be convinced that the corner has truly been turned. Life and pensions is a fragile sector and sales for the fourth quarter fell from £190m to £161m while the distribution arms suffered a £2m loss.

The company hasn’t been helped by the errors made in pensions adminstration, which cost it £152m in repayments to customers, along with another £19m in expenses, forcing it into a £22m loss before tax.

Aegon, which has been raising its profile through a £25m sponsorship of British tennis, says the customer redress programme is now complete. The UK business is expected to return to profit.

Grace’s appointment to the management board suggests he’s doing something right and that group chief executive Alex Wynaendts continues to have faith in the UK operations. But Grace and his team will need to show that after the setbacks of recent years they can hit a few aces.

History repeats itself for Whyte

“YOU might say it was a valuable experience. I would prefer it had not happened, but it has reduced the chances of it happening again,” said the young man I interviewed in August 1996 who was talking about his first business crashing under the weight of debt two years after he launched it aged 20.

His name was Craig Whyte, and sadly for him, and a few others, it did happen again. And again.

Whyte was 26 at the time, almost scarily ambitious. He drove a black Mercedes convertible, had a boat on Loch Lomond and an executive box... at Ibrox. Chasing the dream is one thing. But fantasies are another.