LONDON-Westfield, the Australian developer, is launching a solo bid for Chelsfield and at the same time ruled out a hostile takeover. The company is bidding for Chelsfield on its own rather than through a consortium and will fund the bid through borrowings that will lift its leverage ratio from 43% to 51.5%. But the euro 793 million ($977 million) is conditional on support from the Chelsfield board, securing at least 50.1% of the shares and deep discounted bonds in the company and “satisfactory arrangements” for the pre-emption rights of existing shareholders.

The bid comes only months after a management buyout through a venture called Duelguide took Chelsfield private. The Westfield proposal values Duelguide at approximately £2.2 billion (A$5.5 billion) on an enterprise-value basis.

“The UK shopping center market is under-developed relative to the United States and Australia, and if the bid is successful it would increase Westfield’s presence in the UK substantially,” Westfield group chairman Frank Lowy says. He added that the bid proposal is a strategic move driven by Westfield’s long-term plans for its UK business. “Westfield recognizes that the bid represents a premium price, but we believe we can create significant value through the application of our management and development expertise to the Chelsfield properties.”

Westfield executives have sought to reassure shareholder concerns about the raised leverage by identifying a strategy to reduce it to the “mid-forties” over the next 12 to 18 months. Plans are to sell the “non-core assets in Chelsfield, raise funds from Chelsfield and Westfield’s current portfolio and ongoing revaluations,” according to a company statement. The acquisition is unlikely to impact on Westfield’s next dividend.

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