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Sabre Holdings acquires

May 12, 2005

eCommerce retailer has accepted a 577m ($1.07 billion) takeover bid from Sabre Holdings, owner of the Travelocity online travel business. Lastminute shares rose 8 percent yesterday, after surging by more than 45 percent a day earlier, when it revealed the approach.

Co-founders Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox are set to pocket 40m between them for their stakes in the business, one of darlings of the dotcom boom.

Mr Hoberman will receive about 26m, while Ms Lane Fox will get 13.6m.

Founded by the duo in 1998, Lastminute - which specialises in selling holidays and flights to website customers at short notice - was swept along by the craze for technology stocks in the late 1990s.

Its stock market value spiralled to more than 800m after it floated in 2000 while Ms Lane Fox became one of the most familiar faces of the dotcom era.

Lastminute expanded rapidly, acquiring 14 other companies, but was hit hard when the technology bubble burst. Ms Lane Fox quit in 2003.

Today's offer is an endorsement of the achievements of everyone at

Lastminute's board said that it would recommend the Sabre bid to its shareholders and if they approve the deal it should complete by July.

Sabre is paying a 57% premium to Lastminute's closing price of 107p on 10 May, the day before it made the bid.

By 1300 GMT, Lastminute shares had risen 13p to 166.75p, above the 165p-a-share offer made by Sabre.

Chief executive Brent Hoberman will continue to run the business, which will become part of Travelocity's European operation.

"Today's offer from Sabre is an endorsement of the achievements of everyone at," Mr Hoberman said.

More than seven million customers used the group last year, making transactions worth more than 990m. On Thursday, it announced total transactions over the past six months had risen 57% to 512m.

However, the Lastminute is loss-making and racked up a loss of 77m in 2004.

Travelocity sold holidays, flights and other travel packages worth a total of 2.6bn ($4.9bn) in 2004. Lastminute will become Travelocity's principal retail travel brand globally.

"This acquisition would bring together two well-regarded brands and two great teams to create the leading position in European online travel," said Travelocity chief Michelle Peluso.

However analysts have suggested it is not a done deal and a counter offer is possible.

The online travel market has rapidly consolidated in the past year and analysts believe Lastminute may become the subject of a bidding war.

"It's a fair price," Robin Chhabra, an analyst at Evolution Securities, told Reuters. "But there's a strategic logic in trying to block a competitor and so I think there's an outside chance of a counter bid."

He cited Cendant, which bought Ebookers last year, and InteractiveCorp - which owns online travel agent Expedia - as possible suitors.

Despite its high brand profile, Lastminute has been struggling recently against a global downturn in the tourism market.

Last year the group announced plans to shed 350 jobs, or 14% of its workforce, as part of a cost-cutting drive.

Source: BBC News

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