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3i gets more time to woo shareholders

Countrywide postpones shareholder vote to give 3i more time to canvass support.

3i, a UK buyout firm, has been granted more time to quell shareholder opposition to its £978 million (€1.49 billion; $1.92 billion) bid for UK estate agency Countrywide, after the company agreed to postpone its extraordinary general meeting yesterday.

Countrywide chairman Christopher Sporborg successfully sought an adjournment to the meeting, scheduled for Monday morning, after 3i requested more time to discuss the offer with the company’s shareholders.

The deal had been hanging in the balance after three of Countrywide’s largest shareholders publicly voiced their opposition to the deal. Boussard & Gavaudan, Artisan Partners and Standard Life, which between them control about 16 percent of Countrywide stock, all said the bid under-valued the company.

Since 3i needs at least 75 percent support for the bid to succeed, the shareholder vote was delicately poised. Activist hedge fund Polygon and UBS, both of whom have built up stakes of more than 8 percent, were expected to hold the key to the outcome.

However, 3i has refused to bow to the pressure and raise its £978 million offer, which would be comfortably its biggest buyout to date.

The listed UK buyout firm bid 490 pence per share in cash for Countrywide, plus about 0.17 of a share in Rightmove, a real estate website in which Countrywide owns a 21.5 percent stake. Based on Rightmove’s closing price last Friday, this equates to more than 568 pence per Countrywide share.

At 16:35 GMT Monday, Countrywide shares were trading up 3.3 percent at 535 pence, giving the company a market capitalisation of £914 million.

Countrywide said the rearranged shareholder vote would take place “as soon as practicable, and in any event in the next two to three weeks.”