May 13, 2019 / 10:27 AM / a year ago

NSF expects to win over Britain's competition watchdog on Provident bid

(Reuters) - Non-Standard Finance Plc said on Monday it expected to reach an agreement to address concerns raised by Britain’s competition watchdog during the first phase of the review process of its proposed hostile takeover of Provident Financial Plc.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said in February sub-prime lender Provident and smaller rival Non-Standard Finance (NSF) would have to hold off from integrating after any deal, to protect staff and customers while it considers the market impact of combining the subprime lenders.

“We fully expect to reach an agreement in principle on an appropriate remedy with the CMA during the initial Phase I review process,” NSF said on Monday.

The CMA said in February it had served the companies with an initial enforcement order, put in place to prevent the businesses from integrating after a possible merger while the watchdog decides if it needs to launch an investigation.

“If the CMA’s approval has not been received by the date on which all other conditions to the offer are satisfied, NSF will have a decision as to whether or not to waive the CMA condition and proceed to completion,” NSF said on Monday.

NSF’s 1.3 billion pound ($1.69 billion) hostile bid for Provident has turned into a bitter war of words between the two subprime lenders and NSF wants to simplify the bigger lender by selling one unit and closing another.

The lenders exchanged blows on Friday, with NSF accusing its larger rival of “scaremongering” as it resists the takeover bid.

NSF said it was in the final stage of talks with the CMA as to when it could make a filing, adding it expects to be able to do so shortly, at which point the initial period for the CMA’s first phase of review will begin.

“We do not see how this (NSF’s) statement helps shareholders make an informed decision on the offer,” a Provident spokeswoman said.

“(Shareholders) cannot know what the CMA decision will be ... nor the cost and capital implications ... as NSF has set the offer timetable to close on the 5th June,” she said.

Three funds - Woodford, Invesco and Marathon - holding more than 50% of Provident and a majority stake in NSF have all backed the bid, led by current NSF Chief Executive Officer and former Provident boss John van Kuffeler.

That leaves NSF way short of the support of 90% of shares it set as a target, when it made the original offer in February. It has said it would not extend the closing date for the offer past its latest deadline of May 15.

Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Shailesh Kuber

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