Takeover spree expected after investment trust bid

A takeover bonanza in the until now relatively stable investment trust market is expected following a proposed bid for one of the biggest trusts ever, the Kleinwort European Privatisation Investment Trust (Kepit).

Nigel Farr, of Herbert Smith, acting for the TR European Growth Trust (Treg), which has bid to buy Kepit for £510m, said: “It is thought there are too many investment funds out there. The market is ripe for consolidation. But a lot depends on what happens with this bid.

“If it succeeds, then it may encourage other people to try the same sort of thing. If it is unsuccessful it may serve to discourage them.”

Takeovers of investment trusts are rare and the Kepit bid is seen as particularly important because of the size of the fund. If it liquidates to avoid takeover it will be the largest-ever liquidation of an investment fund.

Kepit was launched amid great publicity by Kleinwort Benson two-and-a-half years ago. It invests solely in recently privatised European companies and now has 77,000 shareholders. A similar rival fund, Mercury European Privatisation Investment Trust (Mepit), was launched a short time after Kepit.

Neither trust performed well but Kepit did particularly badly, to the extent that the shares were worth less than the value of the underlying assets it held. This made it ripe for takeover by a rival fund.

The Kepit board was in the midst of a capital restructuring when Treg's bid came in, said Kepit's lawyer Richard Roland, of Allen & Overy.

The restructuring was halted, the board rejected the bid and asked other investment funds for rival offers. An unprecedented 10 other trusts then put in bids.

The board has now recommended a joint proposal by Kleinwort Benson Investment Management and M&G to liquidate the trust and offer shareholders cash or unit trusts in Kleinwort Benson or M&G.

The Kepit board is expected to send its full proposals to shareholders by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, said Farr, Treg was already taking acceptances from shareholders. Though Kepit says that less than 2.5 per cent have so far taken up Treg's offer.

Analyst Roger Adams, of SG Warburg, said: “What I keep hearing is that there are far too many trusts. There are lots of relatively small ones started in the past two or three years, some of which perform well, but some will fail.

“The other message from Kepit is that size is no object to failure, Kepit was one of the biggest launches of all time,” he said.

Richard Roland, of Allen & Overy, said: “There are a lot of trusts like Kepit that are trading at a discount to net asset value.

“What has been brought to the forefront by the Treg bid is the question of what they should do about it.

“Should they liquidate themselves to eliminate that discount? There could be a lot of activity out there.”