August 17, 2018 / 12:26 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-SJW Group rejects CalWater's latest takeover bid -SJW CEO

(Adds share price reaction, gives precise figure for raised offer)

By David French

NEW YORK, Aug 17 (Reuters) - SJW Group has rejected the latest takeover offer from California Water Service Group , SJW's chief executive told Reuters on Friday, as it remains focused on completing its cross-country acquisition of a Connecticut-based water utility.

CalWater announced late on Monday a revised proposal to acquire San Jose-based SJW for $70 per share in cash, valuing it at around $1.45 billion, having had a lower bid rejected in April.

Speaking to Reuters, SJW CEO Eric Thornburg said the offer from CalWater did not give the company and its shareholders the same kind of benefits that its deal with Connecticut Water Service Inc would provide.

"The board, after careful review with our advisers and management, decided to stay the course with Connecticut Water, as we believe in the power of the deal which we have," said Thornburg, who joined SJW in November after a decade as CEO of Connecticut Water.

SJW's shares dipped 0.9 percent to trade at $66.10 as of 9:40 a.m. ET, while CalWater's stock was off 0.3 percent at $40.55.

CalWater did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The rejection by SJW of CalWater's advances is the latest twist in a four-way water utility merger saga that kicked off in March after SJW and Connecticut Water announced they would combine to create the third-largest investor-owned water and wastewater utility in the United States.

The proposed deal brought out local suitors for both businesses - CalWater for SJW and Boston-based Eversource Energy for Connecticut Water. The would-be buyers argued regional consolidation was better than a trans-America deal.

Water utilities, particularly in California, which has experienced severe drought conditions in recent years, often see mergers and acquisitions as a way to increase scale and efficiency.

SJW and Connecticut Water announced on Aug. 6 they had amended their planned combination into a $1.1 billion acquisition by SJW.

"We're very enthusiastic on our future prospects, especially with the current deal in place which gives us significant accretion by 2021," said Thornburg.

CalWater's revised proposal for SJW was worth 2.6 percent more than the $68.25 per share it offered in April, and also included an offer of up to two board seats and the possibility that SJW management would gain a role in the combined company.

CalWater also offered to consider alternative transaction structures - details of which were not disclosed in Monday's statement - as well as an additional $0.50 per share for every quarter the deal was delayed by regulatory approval beyond a set timetable. (Reporting by David French Editing by Paul Simao, Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)

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