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Daily Telegraph: Buyers drill deep for Shell biofuels group

By Mark Kleinman
Last Updated: 12:24am GMT 23/03/2008

A pack of the world’s biggest private equity firms is this weekend circling Infineum, a British biofuel additives producer owned by Shell and ExxonMobil that is valued at up to €2.5bn (£2bn).

Apollo Management, BC Partners, Carlyle Group, Cinven, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Vestar are all planning to submit offers for Infineum, which is based in Oxfordshire and employs 1,600 people globally.

The company, which is undertaking a strategic review initiated by its shareholders and handled by bankers at JP Morgan, is among the world’s largest manufacturers and marketers of petroleum additives for the fuels and lubricants industry.

It is understood to have had a turnover of about $1.5bn during 2006 and Shell and ExxonMobil are thought to want to secure offers of between €2bn and €2.5bn. Infineum declined to comment on the process.

Despite the worldwide slowdown in mergers and acquisitions activity during the first quarter of 2008, the surging oil price is acting as a catalyst for deals in the energy and resources sectors.

Later this week Barclays Private Equity is expected to lead a field of prospective bidders for the technology arm of Ashtead, the plant hire group whose share price fell sharply last week amid growing fears about the health of the US construction market.

Ashtead Technology rents specialist submersible equipment to offshore oil and gas operators. NM Rothschild, the investment bank, is handling a strategic review on behalf of Ashtead, which is expected to trigger offers of about £100m. Ashtead generates about 80 per cent of its earnings from North America, and a successful sale of its technology arm would provide a welcome fillip for the company.

While the credit crunch has effectively shut the door on larger leveraged buyouts, smaller deals are still being completed. Cognetas and Englefield Capital, two private equity firms, are understood to have structured their purchase earlier this month of Morrison Utility Services by writing an equity cheque for the full £135m purchase price.

People close to the transaction said the buyers had arranged the deal in this way to provide reassurance to the seller, the privately owned Anglian Water Group, that it would not be derailed by the torrid financing markets.

Cognetas and Englefield Capital are now in talks with Bank of Ireland, Fortis and HBOS to inject tens of millions of pounds of debt into Morrison.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/money/2008/03/23/cnshell123.xml

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