* $2 bln bidding war looms for Envestra
* Deal shows CK Group's growing interest in Australia
(Recasts with vote delay, adds deal detail, context)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, May 9 Australian gas pipeline owner
Envestra Ltd sought to delay a shareholder meeting to
vote on a A$2.06 billion ($1.93 billion) takeover bid by larger
rival APA Group after firms associated with Li Ka-shing lobbed a
higher eleventh hour offer.
Companies in billionaire Li's Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong
Group - Envestra's second biggest shareholder after APA
- escalated what has been a months-long standoff over control of
the company by offering A$2.37 billion, or A$1.32 per share,
late on Thursday. CK Group had until then opposed the APA bid.
On Friday, shares in Envestra rose as much as 20 percent
with trades as high as A$1.365 as investors betted on a higher
second offer by APA. An APA spokesman declined to comment on the
CK Group bid, but said any rival offer gave APA the right to
change what had been its final offer.
"My guess is they'll probably come back with a new bid.
Maybe they'll throw a bit of cash on top of that as well and in
my view that would be a superior offer," Rivkin Securities
director Shannon Rivkin said.
Envestra, which has previously recommended the APA offer,
told the Australian Securities Exchange that it would ask the
Federal Court on Friday for permission to delay a shareholder
meeting to vote on the APA bid, originally scheduled for May 13.
The company is the latest in a series of overseas
infrastructure businesses targeted by Li's empire as he cuts his
exposure to Hong Kong, where opportunities for expansion are
becoming limited. Li began building his conglomerate in the
former British colony some 64 years ago.
The tycoon's companies have raised about $9 billion by
selling stakes in Hong Kong firms. Analysts expect a part of the
proceeds to be used for buying overseas businesses.
Just last month, local media reported that Cheung Kong
Infrastructure tried but failed to buy Australia's Port of
Newcastle from the New South Wales state government. The asset
went to China Merchants and Australia's Hastings Funds
Management for A$1.75 billion instead.
Li's interest in Envestra also suggests a growing focus on
infrastructure in Australia, where the Federal Government is
offering state governments cash bonuses to sell infrastructure
and provide cash for much-needed upgrades to roads and other
The CK Group tilt for Envestra comes amid an increase in
mergers and acquisitions activity by Chinese interests targeting
Australian resources-related companies.
On Monday, Baosteel and Australian rail company Aurizon
Holdings Ltd made a A$1.14 billion bid for Aquila in a
move that could help it secure supply and rely less on top
suppliers Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton
AMP Capital Investors, Envestra's biggest shareholder after
the two takeover rivals, declined to comment.
($1 = 1.0670 Australian Dollars)
(Additional reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Ryan Woo)