Premier's strategy with Just parallels PBL's with Burswood, down to personnel

Solomon Lew makes use of both the carrot and the stick in his bid for Just Group.

Solomon Lew makes use of both the carrot and the stick in his bid for Just Group.

SOLOMON Lew's decision to add two lumps of sugar to his takeover bid for Just Group and make the second lump conditional on getting 90% represents a second roll of the dice for advisers on both sides.

Lew's takeover vehicle, Premier Investments, is being advised by UBS investment bankers including Tim Antonie, who in 2004 was in the UBS team that advised the Packer family's PBL on its takeover offer for the Burswood; and Burswood's defence team included Caliburn's Ron Malek, who is also advising Just on its defence.

And in 2004 PBL successfully deployed the device that Lew has just launched.

Burswood rejected PBL's initial offer, partly on the strength of a higher valuation of the shares by independent experts Lonergan Edwards (which, to extend the coincidence, is underpinning Just's defence with a report that asserts that Premier's offer is neither fair nor reasonable).

PBL then announced that it would pay 6 a share more for Burswood - but only if it reached 90%. The key stake was one of about 7% held by Paul Moore's PM Capital, which was big enough to frustrate the 90% target. Once it became clear that Moore was accepting, Burswood recommended that shareholders accept.

Whether Lew's use of the tactic will be as successful remains to be seen, but

there's no doubt that it is both a carrot and a stick.

First, Premier has conditionally committed to bump the cash component up by an effective 4.5 per Just share by extending Premier's just-declared June-half dividend to shares issued to Just shareholders who accept by August 6. The caveat is that this will only occur if Premier wins enough acceptances to carry it from about 25% now to more than 50%.

Lew says that, on the basis of feedback from shareholders, 50%-plus is now highly likely, and that's controversial: ASIC watches statements by bidders about shareholders' intentions closely, because they can affect the bid outcome.

It's unclear whether Just's two 10% shareholders, Barclays International and AXA, are now more inclined to sell than they were, and Lew may be alluding to other potential sellers, including hedge funds, which own about 8%, and an unidentified holder of nearly 5%.

Certainly the dividend payment is an attractor - and if Premier gets past 50%

it is also undertaking to pay another 15 per share cash if it gets past 90%.

Just issued a statement late yesterday saying it was still evaluating the move, but noted that the "core offer" had not been improved. But Just also knows now that a continued aggressive defence will be working to frustrate the "bonus" payment of 15 that would almost inevitably flow if it recommended acceptance. The feedback Just gets from its shareholders on this issue will be critical, and the fulcrum is cash.

Lew wants to deepen the share base of Premier by importing Just shareholders, and the offer looked progressively better in June

and July as retail conditions weakened (as Lew anticipated at the outset) - something Just confirmed dramatically at the beginning of this month, when it substantially downgraded its earnings outlook.

The problem had been that Premier was offering not just cash but shares, and, for at

least some of Just's bigger shareholders, the swap into a company that Lew would still firmly control was undesirable.

Yesterday's changes respond to that issue with more cash. Potentially, accepting shareholders will get up to $2.29 cash - 79% of Just's share price ahead of Premier's rejig, and still 70% of it after Just's 38, 13% share price jump to $3.29 yesterday.

Premier's own share price of $7.10 implied another $1.77 of value, taking the potential total to $4.06, beneath Lonergan Edwards' valuation, but well above Just's share price.

THE ACCC's statement of issues about the proposed Westpac-St George merger raises no serious obstacles.

There are basically no concerns about the combination of the various banking elements of the two franchises. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has questions about the possible combination of St George's Asgard wrap platform with Westpac's BT wrap platform, but the rest of the funds management business does not raise competition issues if merged, and any issues concerning the wrapping up of wraps should be easily settled.

If there is a distinct market for wrap platforms, Westpac's BT is No.1, with a three-year funds flow of $35 billion. Macquarie is No.2, with $28billion, and St George's Asgard is a distant third, with $11 billion.

But wraps are really just an iteration of the superannuation master fund, providing gateways to multiple managers, and administrative support, including unified reporting.

The ACCC is asking if wraps and master funds are exchangeable in competition terms. If they are, there are no competition issues, because the total market is diverse - players also include AMP, MLC and Colonial - and also deep. In the past three years $87 billion of funds have flowed through wrap platforms. In the same time, $287 billion has flowed through master funds. Even if the ACCC found a competition issue after further soundings, it would be easily fixed.

Worst case: St George's wrap platform would go out of the deal (its master fund platform, which is twice as big, is not a problem, as mentioned). Second worst case: the two platforms could be run parallel, instead of fully merged.

Whatever happens, it is no deal-killer: the union is about banking synergies, and the deal clincher will be the final handshake on takeover terms.

mmaiden@theage.com.au


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