* Cermaq fails to win enough support to buy Copeinca
* Collapse of that deal was key to Marine Harvest offer
* Marine Harvest says may be willing to raise offer
(Adds vote, Marine Harvest, Cermaq comment, shares)
By Victoria Klesty
OSLO, May 21 Norwegian fish farmer Cermaq
has failed to win enough shareholder support to buy
Peruvian fish feed maker Copeinca, opening the door to
a $1.7 billion takeover of Cermaq by bigger rival Marine Harvest
Most Cermaq shareholders backed the deal to buy Copeinca at
a meeting on Tuesday, but the company was short of the
two-thirds support it needed. That result sent Cermaq shares
sharply higher as investors bet Marine Harvest would now come
back with a sweetened offer to secure a deal.
Marine Harvest, the world's biggest fish farmer, said
earlier on Tuesday it would be willing to offer $1.7 billion for
Cermaq, or possibly more, but only if the company dropped its
own $730 million bid for Copeinca.
"We just have to accept the shareholder vote," Cermaq Chief
Financial Officer Tore Valderhaug said. "We still think (the
Marine Harvest) offer is low but it's positive they say they are
willing to raise it."
Salmon farmers have been among the hottest stocks recently
as global demand is rising sharply at a time when supply growth
is limited and Chile, a top global supplier, is facing renewed
signs of disease.
Marine Harvest, which recently purchased a major processing
firm, is aiming to create a global fish giant that would be a
top player in everything from feed to processing.
Shares in Marine Harvest, controlled by shipping tycoon John
Fredriksen, are up 92 percent over the past year, giving it a
market capitalisation of about $4 billion, while Cermaq shares
are up over 60 percent.
Cermaq shares surged once again on Tuesday, rising to 110
crowns apiece after the shareholder vote, well above Marine
Harvest's 105 crown offer and indicating investors expect an
improved bid. Marine Harvest shares also rose over 3 percent.
Marine Harvest's initial proposal was rejected by Cermaq's
biggest shareholder, the Norwegian state, which has a holding of
Marine Harvest, which has not made a formal bid, said it
would now need a few days to put its offer together and that it
was willing to consider a higher bid.
"We could be prepared to improve both the price and
composition of our offer in order to find an amicable solution
acceptable to all parties," it said.
The rejection may also be good news for Copeinca itself as
China Fishery Group, which had also bid for the firm,
said it would be willing to raise its own bid, if Cermaq's
shareholders rejected the deal on Tuesday.
Still, a deal between Marine Harvest and Cermaq could be an
Fredriksen, estimated to be worth $11.5 billion by Forbes
magazine, is a controversial figure in Norway, particularly with
the centre-left Labour government.
Having traded his Norwegian passport for Cypriot citizenship
for tax purposes, he has been moving many of his companies away
from Norway's prosperous oil-based economy, prompting some
(Writing by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Mark Potter)