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$450-Billion Bid for Exxon Sounds Rather Slippery

November 01, 2005|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

The calendar said Halloween, but analysts said it might as well have been April Fools' Day.

On Monday a little-known Chinese company made a $450-billion offer to buy Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil company.

The company, which has a business address in New Zealand, filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission offering to buy Exxon for the equivalent of $70 a share in a combination of U.S. and Chinese currency. King Win Laurel Ltd. said the offer was subject to financing.

Exxon, based in Irving, Texas, shrugged off the filing.

"We do not believe that King Win Laurel Ltd. is financially capable of making such a tender offer," Exxon spokesman Dave Gardner said. "If we receive such a communication, we will respond appropriately."

King Win Laurel has a history of making bizarre takeover bids.

Last year, a New Zealand regulatory panel terminated King Win's offer to purchase Restaurant Brands New Zealand Ltd., the country's KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks operator, because the terms of the deal did not comply with the nation's securities laws.

A few months later, King Win Laurel offered 60 billion Australian dollars for Telstra, Australia's largest telephone company. At the time, Telstra spokesman Michael Grealy said the offer "appears likely to be a hoax," and it was blocked by Australian regulators.

Although it lists a Beijing mailing address, King Win Laurel appears to be run out of the home of a person named in the filing as Xiufeng Zhang in Auckland, New Zealand. It is controlled by Kingwin Holdings of London and Ying Wang of Blockhouse Bay in New Zealand.

Zhang and Wang are listed as its two directors. A call to the phone number listed on the SEC filing connected to a fax machine.

The proposal did not impress Wall Street, where Exxon shares fell 17 cents Monday to $56.14.

"It's hard to believe anyone could fund a transaction of that size," said Jon Cartwright, an energy industry analyst with BOSC Inc. in Clearwater, Fla.

Cartwright said his initial reaction was to ignore the offer unless there was evidence it had the Chinese government's backing.

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