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Mystery bidder in 'tentative approach' for Ryland

A second company, thought to be Reg Vardy, has entered the bidding for Ryland Group just days after Guinness Peat Group tabled its initial offer.

A spokesman for Ryland says the “tentative approach” by the unnamed party is not a full offer, but the price proposed was above the 120p per share tendered by Guinness Peat. He adds that the company has expressed a number of pre-conditions.

Analysts believe Reg Vardy is a front-runner. Chairman Sir Peter Vardy, at last week's results announcement, emphasised that he had £100m to spend on acquisitions and Ryland would be a good fit with its prestige franchises.

Sources also suggest Nick Whale, brother of Ryland chairman Peter, is in the bidding. But while he admits that he would like the business to stay within the family, Whale says he is not in talks. GPG last week purchased 5000 shares in Ryland, taking its stake from 29.9 to 30.01 per cent, which meant it had to make a full offer under City rules for the £642m turnover dealer group.

Ryland's board rejected GPG's cash offer, claiming the 120p per share bid, which valued it at £35.6m, was too low. It “strongly encouraged” shareholders to take no action.

Responding to the news that an approach has been made by a rival company, GPG said it would wait for Ryland to release a defence document before assessing whether to raise its bid.

The company believes that Ryland is “operating very well” in the motor retailing sector but wants to appoint a member of its board to help the management team grow the business.

“There is a major opportunity for growth in the motor retailing sector and Ryland is well placed to exploit that,” says a spokesman for GPG. Ryland was recently awarded the PricewaterhouseCoopers European automotive retailer shareholder value award for 2001.

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