Sunday 4 January 2015

Predictions, predictions and predictions

It's that time of the year when commentators, analysts and hacks like to make predictions. But there have already been so many articles in the last few days about what might happen in 2015 that I'm not sure I'm going to be able to add much more to what has been already speculated.

Still, it's been almost a year since I launched Betaville, so I thought it might be worthwhile looking back at the highs - and a couple of lows - during 2014. You never know, looking back might be able to help you look into the future (wink, wink).

Betaville launched in some style back on the 14th February, 2014 with a scoop about how the billionaire Ruia brothers had just tabled an offer of almost £900 million to take London-listed Essar Energy private. An hour or so after publishing my story on Betaville, Indian oil and gas company Essar Energy confirmed on the regulatory news service (RNS) it had received an approach from the Ruia brothers' investment vehicle.

Ten days later, Betaville broke arguably one of of the best British M&A stories of 2014 with its agenda-setting scoop about how FTSE 250 retailers Carphone Warehouse and Dixons Retail were holding merger talks to create a multi-billion pound retail giant that could end up going into the blue-chip index. I published my scoop on the morning of February 24th, 2014 and just over an hour later both companies confirmed on RNS they were in merger talks.

The Carphone Warehouse/Dixons Retail deal completed and the newly formed/named Dixons Carphone was promoted to the FTSE 100 index. The company then ended up being the best performing blue-chip stock of 2014, gaining 70pc over the year with a market capitalisation of £5.3 billion.

On March 7, Betaville wrote about how FTSE 100-listed Weir Group was on the hunt for a large European acquisition and speculated Finnish group Metso might the target. Three weeks later, Gary Parkinson over at The Times broke the story about how Weir Group was in talks with Metso about merger to create a £9 billion engineering giant. What followed was one of the most peculiar episodes of spin, spin and counter spin I have ever encountered in an M&A scenario but I will leave that sorry tale there.  

In March, I also revealed how the Agnellis, one of Italy's wealthiest families, were looking at buying 20pc of insurance giant Swiss Re via a tender offer. That story elicited denials from from both Swiss Re and Exor, the Agnellis' investment group, and also a piss poor hatchet job on me by a bizarre Swiss media organisation owned by some banks. Here is a link to the "Cash" piece, which for the record is riddled with a number of factual inaccuracies about myself:

The thing is I am sure the Swiss Re story I published was accurate as it came from some of best sources. So, I am guessing the mere fact of publishing the story blew the whole deal up (this happens quite often). But as a good contact of mine always says, these deals never go away altogether...

Betaville, though, is not just about deals. And the blog proved that when Betaville ran a series of stories - also known as the "missing skyscraper" series - about how an Irish property developer and Credit Suisse financier behind the planned 74-storey Hertsmere House skyscraper in Canary Wharf failed to get the proposed scheme off the ground (excuse the pun). After several pieces on Betaville, the story eventually ran on the front page of The Guardian newspaper's main section, quoting little old Betaville. Here is a link to that piece:

Moving on, Betaville also played a significant role in breaking several stories about the huge round of consolidation taking place in the global pharmaceuticals sector. For example, in late April 2014 Betaville was the first to reveal that US biotechnology company InterMune was getting a lot of attention from several European players, including Actelion, Sanofi, Roche and Novartis. Back then, Actelion shares were trading around $35 a share. I followed that piece in April with several stories throughout the summer about takeover interest in InterMune and the company was eventually bought by Roche for $74 a share. That is some premium to when I first identified InterMune as a realistic takeover target!

Some of Betaville's other top tales include a scoopette in late November 2014 about how FTSE 250-listed construction services group Kier was in talks to buy road repair company Mouchel for almost £400 million from the banks that took control of the business when it ran into financial trouble a couple of years ago. I decided to publish the story despite the fact that people close to Mouchel repeatedly claimed over several weeks and on several occasions that the company was not being sold and would only consider a flotation. Kier then confirmed its Mouchel acquisition plans after I published my story:

Hopefully, it will more of the same for little old Betaville in 2015 - landing scoops, cracking jokes (mostly about myself) and causing trouble. As I said previously, I'm not sure there is much more I can add to this week's "predictions" by newspaper reporters, columnists and broadcasters. Almost every pundit has said there "will" be consolidation in the oil sector following last year's collapse in prices. I concur, but I would also point readers in the direction of Genel Energy as a potential consolidation target. Danny Fortson of The Sunday Times talked about some of the fundamental reasons to invest the stock in today's edition. However, I have been told there are already some vultures circling Genel, including L1 Energy or LetterOne (it's not clear from their website what they are called). Also, keep an eye on the some of the London-listed food producers and consumer products groups as I have been given a strong steer we will see some deals in the sector over the next six months...

P.S if you were away last week, Deirdre Hipwell's piece on M&A prospects for 2015 in the The Times is worth a read:

And Dominic O'Connell's comment column in today's The Sunday Times is also excellent:

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