Australia's Link to consider Carlyle's fresh $2.1 bln bid, shares jump

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A general view of the lobby outside the Carlyle Group offices in Washington, May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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SYDNEY, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Australia's Link Administration (LNK.AX) said on Friday it will consider a fresh A$2.81 billion ($2.08 billion) offer from Carlyle Group (CG.O), sending the shareholder registry firm's stock up more than 12%.

The bid marks a renewed attempt by Carlyle to buy the Sydney-based company after it pursued Link with Pacific Equity Partners in late 2020. The private-equity duo bowed out earlier this year after rival offers emerged.

At the heart of a flurry of interest in Link is its stake in online conveyancing firm PEXA Group (PXA.AX), which listed on the Australian stock market in July after Link rejected a bid for the company by KKR & Co (KKR.N).

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An unprecedented amount of fiscal spending and low interest rates have contributed to a red-hot Australian housing market that has pushed up home prices by more than a fifth this year.

Carlyle's latest bid includes A$3 per share in cash and a distribution of Link's stake in PEXA worth A$2.38 a share, Link said. Carlyle declined to comment.

In total, Carlyle's offer price is 24.2% above Link's closing price on Thursday, although slightly below its previous offer following a steep fall in Link's shares as the company swung to an annual loss in August.

Link's shares climbed as much as 12.5% to A$4.87 on Friday, their sharpest rise since December 2020, but are still down about 14% so far this year. The were also well below Carlyle's bid, equivalent to A$5.38 a share, indicating market doubts over whether the deal will proceed.

"Shareholders will need to balance short-term interest versus a relatively strong outlook for the company," said Jamie Hannah, deputy head of investments at VanEck, a Link shareholder.

On Wednesday, Link told shareholders it is targeting revenue growth of 8%-10% over the next five years and earnings margin before interest and tax of 16%-18% by fiscal 2026, compared with the 12.2% it reported for fiscal 2021.

Credit Suisse analysts said Link's depressed share price suggested a low level of confidence it could meet the targets.

"This offer therefore would fast track the monetisation of some of the benefits of an earnings recovery," it said in a client note. "We do see scope for other private equity firms to have interest in Link, which sees some upside risk to the offer price."

Link appointed Macquarie Capital and UBS as advisers, and put its current share buyback on hold.

($1 = 1.3514 Australian dollars)

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Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney and Savyata Mishra and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Richard Pullin

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