Shares in Hanson Plc surged to an all-time high on Wednesday on market talk of a bid for the building materials supplier from France’s Lafarge, adding to rumours the firm might separate its US business. "We have heard Lafarge could be about to bid for Hanson. It has been rumoured before," a London-based trader said. Another dealer cited break-up talk as the main reason behind the share price move.
"There’s a real feeling that they’re going to uncouple their US business, which would get rid of some of this asbestos worry," the dealer said, echoing rumours reported in Wednesday’s Independent newspaper. Hanson’s US operations are performing better than its UK and Australian businesses, fuelled by a booming US housing market.
Hanson, the world’s largest supplier of sand and gravel for buildings, said it did not comment on market speculation. Lafarge, the world’s largest cement maker, also said it did not comment on market rumours. Analysts however doubted Lafarge would be interested in the whole of Hanson at a time it is trying to buy out minority shareholders in Lafarge North America .
A Lafarge spokeswoman said the company’s general policy towards acquisitions was that they could be carried out, regardless of size, if they were compatible with the company’s goals for earnings per share and return on capital and did not call into question its financial strength. The policy was set out by new chief executive Bruno Lafont, who took office Jan. 1.