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MARKET REPORT: John Laing shares surge amid KKR takeover talks

Infrastructure investor John Laing Group rocketed after it became the latest London-listed company to be approached about a private equity takeover.

The firm is in talks with American behemoth KKR about a possible offer. KKR has until June 3 to confirm if it will put forward an official bid.

John Laing is a major infrastructure investor and quoted on the FTSE 250.

Takeover talks: John Laing has financed projects such as wind and solar farms, roads in Colombia, a huge sports stadium in Western Australia and a New Zealand prison (file picture)

It has financed projects such as wind and solar farms, roads in Colombia, a huge sports stadium in Western Australia and a New Zealand prison to name but a few.

The approach underlines the interest in London Stock Exchange-listed companies from private equity firms since the pandemic hit.

Many are hoping to pick up a bargain after turbulent stock markets hammered the share prices of companies large and small last year. 

Stock Watch – Deepverge 

Technology group Deepverge is setting up an artificial intelligence centre in Ireland that will detect Covid and other dangerous pathogens in water and sewage.

The site, based in Cork, will be up and running by the autumn. Deepverge – which also makes human-like skin for drug companies to test products on – is planning to triple its Irish headcount.

It will hire 60 staff, including physicists, data scientists and epidemiologists. Shares rose 5.7 per cent, or 1.75p, to 32.5p.

Over the last few months the AA, portable power generator provider Aggreko and superyacht repair group GYG (flat at 87p) have all been targets too. John Laing put out the brief update explaining that it was in talks with KKR after its share price spiked in early trading. 

Even though there was no mention of what price KKR might propose for the company, John Laing’s shares shot up 19.6 per cent, or 62.2p, to 379.8p by the close – making it by far the highest riser on the mid-cap index.

In other takeover news, mining minnow Bacanora Lithium surged after its largest investor tabled a £190million offer, which the board has recommended shareholders accept. 

But the bid is controversial – it has come from Chinese group Ganfeng Lithium, which owns 17.5 per cent of Bacanora’s shares. 

The City and politicians alike are wary of Chinese takeovers of London-listed companies – and even more so when they are in strategic industries. 

Ganfeng is already one of China’s biggest lithium producers and the green metal is one of the most in-demand raw materials in the world. Bacanora’s stock jumped 26.7 per cent, or 12p, to 57p.

Elsewhere, Morgan Advanced Materials climbed 14.2 per cent, or 43p, to 346p after it raised its sales forecasts. 

It said average daily orders in the first four months of its financial year to April were higher than the same period of 2020.

The jumps in John Laing and Morgan Advanced Materials shares helped keep the FTSE 250 in the black, with the index rising 0.5 per cent, or 105.46 points, to 22,491.36, but short of last month’s record close of 22,577.

The FTSE 100 also ended the day on a good note – rising 0.52 per cent, or 36.87 points, to 7076.17 – despite a number of companies trading ex-dividend. 

This means that people buying shares after that date will not be entitled to a company’s next scheduled payout. 

Among the ex-divi firms were chemicals group Croda (down 1.8 per cent, or 122p, to 6756p), insurer Admiral (down 4.7 per cent, or 146p, to 2964p), BP (down 0.1 per cent, or 0.23p, to 314.5p) and household goods giant Reckitt Benckiser (down 1.7 per cent, or 111p, to 6351p). 

It was all doom and gloom over at Trainline, even though the ticketing site said it was seeing the green shoots of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shares sank by 6.9 per cent, or 31.2p, to 419.4p as it revealed losses widened to £106million in the year to February, from £80million the year before.

Net ticket sales – a key measure for the company – were just a fifth of the prior year at £783million, down from £3.73billion.

Daily Mirror and Express publisher Reach rose 6.7 per cent, or 14.5p, to 234.5p after it hailed ‘encouraging’ online growth in a trading update for the four months to April. 

The company said the number of registered users had increased from 5.8m at the end of March to 6.2m at the end of April.

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