Takeover panel demands group decide whether to make an offer by 8 March after bid process goes quiet

The takeover panel has given VT Group a “put up or shut up” deadline of 8 March in relation to its bid for consultant Mouchel.

It follows news in Building today that VT has put its bid for Mouchel on ice while it waits for greater clarity over its debt position.

It will now have to announce whether it intends to make a bid or pull out by the date.

Any move by VT would follow its offer of 260p per share in December, which valued the company at £276m. Mouchel rebuffed that, allegedly seeking 300p.

Sources say VT is waiting for news over whether Mouchel will stay within its £190m credit facility.

There has been no movement since then and several analysts this week described the deal as having gone “unusually quiet”.

Mouchel’s overall borrowing at the end of its financial year on 31 July 2009 was £180.7m, which left it with headroom of £9.3m. At a trading update on 11 December the company said borrowing would be above the figure at its half-year on 31 January, owing to weak trading in Dubai, where it has a joint venture with troubled developer Nakheel. In March it will come under further pressure when the facility falls to £180m.

According to two sources close to VT, which has an estimated war chest of £350m, the firm is hoping its bargaining position will strengthen if Mouchel comes under financial pressure.

One said: “VT is well aware of Mouchel’s financial position and will make it sweat until it is ready to move.”

Both companies declined to comment.