France’s Vinci closes in on Australian engineer Seymour Whyte, edging out Besix

Brisbane-based civil engineer Seymour Whyte announced today that it had received a takeover bid from France’s giant Vinci Group and will consider the offer.

A roads specialist, Seymour White had been in talks with the Watpac subsidiary of Belgian contractor Besix.

The offer gave an "indicative" price for the company’s shares of between A$1.36 and A$1.43. Trading in Seymour Whyte’s shares were halted yesterday at a value of A$1.10, then rose to a A$1.34 in trading on Thursday.

Watpac approached Seymour Whyte with a bid in November last year, which the company said had triggered a confidential strategic review process "focusing on maximising shareholder value". It then appointed financial consultant Investec to advise on a sale. After conducting talks with five companies, it began exclusive negotiations with Vinci. These are expected to last several weeks.

The company said: "The Board of Seymour Whyte considers it is in the interests of shareholders to progress the indicative proposal by providing Vinci with access to due diligence information, and has agreed to a period of exclusivity."

Martin Monro, the chief executive Watpac, told The Australian Financial Review that he believed his company, which specialises in residential and commercial buildings, would have been "a great fit" with Seymour Whyte.

He said: "We think it made a lot of sense for Watpac shareholders and for Seymour Whyte shareholders to get as far as we did in the process. While we’re disappointed that at this stage it looks like it won’t go any further with Watpac, we’ll watch with great interest over the coming weeks as to how that story unfolds."

Seymour Whyte specialises in road projects and has a workforce of 450. Revenue from construction for 2016 was A$360m ($280m), up 34% on 2015. It has offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Townsville, and undertakes projects ranging in value from $10m to $460m.

In February it won a $56m design-and-build contract for the Chandler Highway Upgrade (pictured), the company’s third project win in the state of Victoria in six months.

Vinci last year acquired the Queensland company J&P Richardson Industries for €85m. This specialises in the installation and maintenance of electricity and water networks.

Image: An artist’s impression of the Chandler Highway Upgrade in Victoria (Seymour Whyte)

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