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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Williams Raises Bid for Southern Union to About $5.6B

- Williams Raises Bid for Southern Union to About $5.6B

Thursday, July 14, 2011
Dow Jones Newswires
by Ben Lefebvre

Williams Cos. raised its bid for Texas pipeline company Southern Union to about $5.6 billion in cash in the latest round of a takeover battle with Energy Transfer Equity.

Williams latest bid tops Energy Transfer's previous $5.1 billion cash-and-stock offer and its own previous bid of $5 billion in cash. The two companies have been competing to merge with Southern, with the winner of the competition expected to become the country's largest natural-gas pipeline company.

Williams said it hopes to have an agreement hammered out with Southern by Tuesday, which it maintains is enough time to share business data with Williams and hold the necessary management meetings to get approval.

"It's fairly simple as to what we have to offer," Williams Chief Executive Allan Armstrong said in an interview. "We don't think the decision process is real complex."

Representatives of Southern and Energy Transfer were not immediately available to comment.

Williams all-cash bid might be simple, but in the end it might not be as compelling as the company is portraying, said Morningstar equities analyst Jason Stevens said. Morningstar values Energy Transfer's cash-and-stock offer at $46 a share--higher than William's $44 a share offer--because of tax benefits and dividends the stock portion of the deal would offer. A merger with Southern might also force Williams to sell some of its pipeline assets in Florida to win over antitrust regulators, Stevens said.

"They'd have to sell their premiere assets," Stevens said. "It's just not as compelling an offer."

It might be difficult for Williams to go any higher than its current 10% premium to Energy Transfer's current offer, said BMO Capital Markets analyst Carl Kirst.

"Williams paying more than $44 would start facing investor blowback given the premium involved," Kirst said in an investors note.

Energy Transfer and Southern Union last week set a deal initially valued at $40 a share, four dollars lower than Williams's latest bid. Energy Transfer also agreed to sell some assets in order for the deal to pass muster with antitrust regulators.

The companies also raised the breakup fee for their agreement to $162.5 million from $92.5 million in the original agreement, another indication that a higher bid was expected. Williams in its latest bid said it would pay the breakup fee and related expenses for Southern.

Both companies had expressed willingness to assume Southern's debt, totaling $3.7 billion.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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