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Investors circle for more takeovers

FINANCE City Site

AMEC must have been relieved to see its share price tick up earlier this week despite press reports that its long-awaited strategic review could include further write-downs of over £100 million.

Had the shares collapsed, the group would have been all the more vulnerable to a bid; perhaps from the US private equity groups First Reserve and Texas Pacific, which approached it with a 450p-a-share indicative offer earlier this year.

There may also have been relief that, with the review now imminent, new chief executive Samir Brikho can at last share his plans with the City.

If provisions do emerge on the scale reported, it would be difficult for the group to stay independent without hiving off its construction business. Presumably the firm will be hoping to take advantage of investors' current enthusiasm for infrastructure to make a disposal. Given its recent record, it is perhaps not surprising Amec is said to be struggling to find buyers for the construction business.

But a construction operation with a £1.53 billion order book together with a PPP portfolio valued at £108 million does present a rare opportunity either for a rival or an overseas group to capture a significant UK market position. Potential investors in Amec's construction arm - whether trade buyers or private equity - might also take comfort from the outcome of recent takeovers in the industry. Balfour Beatty is making good progress with its acquisition of Birse and, after some early hiccups, Carillion seems to be successfully digesting Mowlem. Last week analysts came away impressed from a visit to the Scottish operations of Morrison Construction, which Galliford Try acquired this year.

Meanwhile, there seems to be no shortage of buyers elsewhere across the industry and, if anything, the pace of takeover activity seems to be accelerating. As the year draws to a close, Wilson Bowden, Corus and Baggeridge Brick - the Competition Commission permitting - all seem set to move under new ownership.