Asciano Gets $2.7 Billion Bid from Private Equity

Asciano, Australia's biggest port and rail operator, said on Monday it had received an unsolicited bid worth around A$2.9 billion (US$2.7 billion) from private equity, sending its share price up as much as 17 percent.

Ports and other transport companies were popular investments before the global credit crunch began to dry up deals, because they provide steady cash flows as global trade grows.

But recently concerns about ports companies' ability to manage their high levels of debt have kept a lid on investment.

The joint offer from TPG Capital and Global Infrastructure Partners, formed by Credit Suisse and General Electric, was for A$4.40 cash per share, with a scrip alternative in an unlisted bidding company.

"It's a fair price in the circumstances, and in light of the market, so it's worth thinking about it. But there's no doubt, on a longer term view, we and other people can see fair value sitting significantly higher than these levels," Angus Gluskie, a portfolio manager with White Funds Management, which owns a small stake in Asciano said.

He added that valuations on the company sit at almost double the current price.

"The share price at the present time represents a very, very pessimistic outlook for the company," Gluskie said.

Asciano advised shareholders to take no action on the bid at this time.

Asciano shares surged 16.6 percent to A$4.84 at 0220 GMT, just below an earlier peak of A$4.87, while the broader S&P/ASX 200 Index was flat.

The group's shares tumbled early last month on reports it was close to announcing a capital raising to finance an expansion, but bounced sharply last week on speculation it had dropped its plans for a A$1 billion rights issue.

Recently, investors have steered clear of heavily geared infrastructure companies, believing they could struggle to refinance their debts due to soaring credit costs in the wake of the credit crunch.

However, Monday's bid suggests private equity companies still have access to capital, and still have an appetite for deals.

To Friday's close, Asciano's shares had fallen almost 40 percent so far this year, compared with a 22 percent fall in the benchmark index. TPG was last year involved in a failed bid for Australia's national carrier Qantas.