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Origin Energy on the defensive as BG Group turns up heat over bid

Origin Energy on the defensive as BG Group turns up heat over bid

By Peter Taylor

Last Updated: 11:12pm BST 19/08/2008

BG Group’s battle for Origin Energy erupted into a war of words yesterday after the Australian company mounted its formal defence against the proposed A$13.8bn (£6.4bn) takeover.

Frank Chapman, chief executive of the British group, derided Origin’s response to the bid as void of substance and clarity, saying it had “disclosed virtually no information about the risks for shareholders if they reject BG’s offer”.

Origin managing director Grant King hit back, saying BG had provided no information on when it was expecting full regulatory approval for a hostile takeover proposal that remained highly conditional. “It’s quite possible the BG offer may take some months to get all the regulatory approvals,” Mr King told The Daily Telegraph.

As the takeover battle intensified, it emerged that BG had offered Australia’s competition authority a series of concessions in its venture with another business, Queensland Gas Company.

Among them, BG has proposed to relinquish appointment rights for a Queensland Gas director and surrender access to commercially sensitive information on gas supply.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a statement that it would “conduct market inquiries” on the undertakings ahead of its decision on BG’s bid for Origin, due on September 10.

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  • Origin has rejected BG’s A$15.50-a-share cash offer as undervaluing the existing business and the potential value of its extensive reserves of coal seam gas (CSG) – natural gas trapped in underground coal beds.

    The reserves have become the key battleground, with Origin evaluating a sale or joint venture with a global energy group to “monetise” them through the development of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. BG, which has plans for an LNG plant in Australia to convert natural gas for export, covets the reserves.

    Origin, which is believed to have the interest of companies including BP and Royal Dutch Shell for development of an LNG plant, says it is expecting to announce the results of the talks next month, along with an independent report on asset values.

    Mr King said that while the market, shareholders and BG wanted an independent report on the value of the CSG reserves, there was “no point in putting out someone’s estimate of what it’s worth when we’ll know the answer in as little as another month”.

    Mr Chapman said: “Whilst equity markets and energy prices decline and CSG companies’ share prices fall, Origin is telling its shareholders to wait for an uncertain and unclear outcome from its monetisation process. Origin has rejected BG’s offer but has failed to justify its position.” BG’s offer for Origin expires on September 26.

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