Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Apollo backs away from FirstGroup

A few weeks back, FirstGroup's share price went on a mysterious upwards journey. Then, a few days later, it was revealed that FirstGroup had rebuffed an approach from US-listed private equity mob Apollo.

Almost immediately it became clear that, aside from the financial merits of such a deal, there would be plenty of obstacles. Not only was there the question of how a change in ownership would be viewed in respect of First's rail franchises, it was clear that such a takeover, coming so quickly after GKN, would set off a political storm. Given where public opinion is on ownership of the railways, allowing the last major UK player to be gobbled up would have been controversial, and Labour was straight out of the blocks to say such a take-over should not go ahead.

Even after the spurned offer was announced, there was some activity by Apollo in the derivative market. Regulatory filings show that the firm has been playing about with CFDs.

But people I've spoken to in the last couple of weeks have been pretty sceptical. It's not obvious that a takeover can quickly resolve the sorts of issues that asset managers may want to see addressed. There was a good piece in the Sunday Times in which an HSBC analyst suggested that the rail franchises almost act as a poison pill.

Well, today Apollo officially backed off, resulting in a drop in the FirstGroup share price. So, for Apollo at least, the game is over for the time being.

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