* Shell extends deadline for shareholder acceptances to July 11
* Cove shares continue to trade 10 percent above PTT’s offer price
* Analyst says still expects Shell to return with higher bid
* Shell has until July 17 to launch higher offer
LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - Oil major Shell again extended a deadline for Cove Energy shareholders to accept its $1.8 billion takeover offer, leaving the way open to trump a higher bid from rival Thai group PTT Exploration and Production.
The two suitors have been battling to buy Cove since February, attracted by the company’s position in huge gas fields discovered off the coast of Mozambique which look set to transform the East African country into a major supplier of energy to Asia.
Shell said on Thursday it was extending the deadline for Cove shareholders to accept its bid for a third time to July 11, following PTT’s move on Monday to extend to July 6 the cut-off date for investors to accept its $1.9 billion offer.
Investors are still betting that Shell, keen to establish a presence in the world’s next biggest gas frontier in East Africa, will raise its offer for Cove.
Cove shares, up 0.4 percent to 264.8 pence at 1137 GMT, have consistently traded around 10 percent above PTT’s 240 pence per share offer since it was launched in May, and acceptance levels for both offers are low, at 0.25 percent for PTT and 3.5 percent for Shell.
Under British takeover rules, Shell has until July 17 to launch a higher offer.
Investec analyst Stuart Joyner said Shell was likely to raise its offer. The further extension of the offer was expected, given the timetable.
“Why fold and why raise when you’ve got another three weeks? I’d have been very surprised at any other outcome. As with all these things, why not wait until as late as possible? The reason being, is that gives your opponent the least ability to respond,” he said.
Up to 100 trillion cubic feet of gas - enough to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for a decade - have been discovered off the coast of Mozambique in the last two years with forecasts that $50 billion could flow into the country to help develop the resources to turn the country into a gas exporter to energy-hungry Asia.