November 11, 2018 / 11:33 PM / a month ago

Australia's Navitas spurns bidder but stays in play

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian education provider Navitas Ltd (NVT.AX) on Monday spurned a A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) buyout offer from its founder and an Australian private equity firm as too low, but kept the door ajar for a future deal or a rival bidder.

Navitas had already rebuffed an initial offer, lobbed a month ago, from founder and former CEO Rod Jones and fledging private equity firm BGH.

It said on Monday the second proposal was priced at the same level, while the terms and conditions were essentially unchanged.

At A$5.50 per share, the offers were “significantly below” the board’s assessment of the company’s worth, Navitas said in a market filing, which added that it was exploring other takeover options with “a number of parties”. It also said BGH was free to make its pitch directly to shareholders.

Shares in the Perth-based company, which makes money teaching English to migrants, slipped as much as 3.8 percent to A$5.01, a one-week low, but later largely recovered to A$5.18. That is well under the offer but still nearly 20 percent above pre-bid levels.

“The market probably thinks that this isn’t over yet,” Morningstar analyst Gareth James told Reuters, adding the bid was already much sweeter than his A$4.22 valuation before the offer.

“I don’t know if I could really see a rival bid. I would’ve thought if anybody knows what this thing is worth it’s Rod Jones and would you really want to compete against him to get control of the company?”

Jones owns 18 percent of Navitas shares, stock market disclosures show. BGH did not immediately respond to a request for comment and nor did a spokesman for Jones.

Operating in Australia, North America and Britain, Navitas posted its first annual loss in August, and has been seen by analysts as vulnerable to shifting political tides as an immigration crackdown in the United States weighs on enrolments.

Australia’s broader market was flat in morning trade.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY. Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick in BENGALURU; editing by Richard Pullin

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