Project Shoes: the bank M&A deals that never dropped

LONDON Wed Aug 3, 2011 12:42pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - British companies have been warned by regulators to make codenames on takeover battles less obvious to avoid leaks.

"Project Shoes," the codename used by UK bank Standard Chartered (STAN.L) as the financial crisis raged in 2008, certainly met that criteria.

The bank was on the hunt for assets in Asia and Africa that European banks in trouble were likely to sell -- or "shoes that might drop," said Richard Meddings, StanChart finance director.

"The problem is the ones that dropped were rather scuffed and full of holes," Meddings said.

Standard Chartered CEO Peter Sands agreed the plan failed to deliver as hoped. "During the crisis we had hopes that various western banks would get rid of interesting assets. The trouble is the things they wanted to get rid of, we didn't want," Sands said after the Asia-focused bank delivered record first-half profits on Wednesday.

It bought the Asian business of Cazenove in early 2009 but has struck no other substantial deals in the last three years.

M&A advisers typically give a deal a codename for deals to disguise its identity.

Most codenames never see the light of day, but some do: In the infamous 1988 takeover battle, tobacco and biscuits conglomerate RJR Nabisco was dubbed "Project Peach" by buyer Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, while BHP Billiton (BLT.L) is reported to have dubbed its unsuccessful takeover move for Potash Corp (POT.TO) as "Project Porcupine."

Britain's Financial Services Authority (FSA) has criticized codenames that can be easy to interpret -- the code often used to start with the same letter as the target -- and in the takeover boom of 2007 it told firms to make codes "sufficiently different" from real life.

(Reporting by Steve Slater)

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