BREAKFAST DEALS: Branson breakaway?

Richard Branson won't rule out offloading his remaining Virgin Australia holding, while a bidding war for the Trust Company intensifies.

Fresh from his deal with Singapore Airlines, Sir Richard Branson is seemingly considering the full sale of his remaining stake in Virgin Australia. Elsewhere, Perpetual trumps Equity Trustees in the tussle over The Trust Company, and the takeover of WHK Group hits a hurdle. Also, who's making the decisions at Billabong?

Virgin Australia

Sir Richard Branson has flown to Perth with what appears to be an invitation for any carrier that might have eyes for Virgin Australia.

Speaking at the launch of the carrier's regional airline, Sir Richard said he would always remain linked to Virgin Australia through the Virgin brand. However, the mogul wouldn't commit to holding onto his remaining 13 per cent stake in the local airline.

Branson's comments come just a month after he sold a 10 per cent holding to Singapore Airlines for roughly $122 million, taking that carrier's interest to 19.9 per cent. Air New Zealand owns about the same amount.

Etihad, which also holds an 8.5 per cent stake, has long been considered a natural buyer for any new parcel of shares. 

An additional 13 per cent would take Etihad's interest above the 20 per cent threshold at which a full takeover bid must be launched.

Equity Trustees, Perpetual, The Trust Company

The battle for The Trust Company is intensifying, as Perpetual one-ups rival bidder Equity Trustees with an agreed $220 million takeover.

The Perpetual offer, which has the unanimous blessing of TTC's board, includes 0.1495 Perpetual shares for every TTC share, as well as a 22 cent fully franked dividend. That's a total of $6.29 per share.

Under the agreement, TTC investors may also opt for cash, although that component is limited to $60 million.

In comparison, Equity Trustees is offering about $5.89, all scrip, based on last-traded prices – a proposal that was rejected by TTC last month. 

However, Equity Trustees chief executive Robin Burns hasn't given up yet.

"We'll consider our position and make our intentions known sooner rather than later, but we certainly don't think this is over," Mr Burns told The Australian.

Is a bidding war brewing?

SFG Australia, WHK Group

If only WHK Group could attract so much interest. The accounting firm's recent profit downgrade appears to have killed a $320 million buyout offer from financial planner SFG Australia.

Coming out of a trading halt on Tuesday, both companies confirmed WHK's profit warning had "impacted merger discussions", and that the original proposal had been withdrawn.

However, it probably won't be the last we hear from the pair.

The companies added: “SFG has discussed with WHK that it will consider a revised proposal once the parties are in a position to review each other’s full-year 2013 performance and full-year 2014 outlook, including the status of their business transformation and strategic initiatives at that time."

Watch this space.

Billabong International, Sycamore Partners

Billabong International investors holding out hope over a $600 million takeover by Sycamore Partners appear to be in for another sad surprise.

The US private equity group, which is bidding alongside Billabong's former Americas boss Paul Naude, is understood to have lodged yet another revised proposal with the surf retailers board, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The news, which comes the same day Sycamore's exclusivity period is due to end, will be a blow to shareholders who have already watched this offer fall from $1.10 a share to 60 cents.

Little is known about the new proposal, other than that it is possibly linked to Sycamore's US banker, Jefferies Group. Last we heard, Jefferies had tapped PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit Billabong's earnings before the lender would commit financing for the deal.

The Australian Financial Review is also carrying an interesting report suggesting Billabong's bankers might be running the decision-making at the company via corporate advisory 333 Management, a division of insolvency specialist Kordamentha.

While Billabong will soon be free to pursue other deals, the banks call the shots.

Wrapping up

As flagged here yesterday, Slater and Gordon has confirmed it will seek $64 million of equity to pursue three purchases in the UK.

As for the capital raising, it's in the form of a placement and share purchase plan priced at $2.55 – a 14 per cent discount to its last-traded price.

Back in Australia, New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has reportedly given Crown and Echo Entertainment another few weeks to submit competing Sydney casino proposals.

The Australian Financial Review reports the deadline has been pushed out to June 21, after which time an independent panel will decide which proposal best suits the state.

Finally, the major contractors will be licking their lips at the prospect of a new $6 billion tollway project in Victoria, as revealed in the state budget. Victorian Treasurer Michael O'Brien says there is already market interest in the public-private partnership, named East West link, with contracts expected to be signed by year-end.

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