Well fancy that. The share price of Leighton Holdings falls sharply on Friday, down a surprising 66c despite a bullish briefing on the company’s prospects from chief financial officer and deputy CEO, Dieter Adamsas.

The interview in fact showed the company was doing so well and its balance sheet was so strong that it was starting to think about a new acquisition.

Monday the shares reverse course and rise by $1.47 at one stage before ending 88c higher. There are rumours of something happening with the ‘interest’ in some of the assets of energy utility Alinta.

Then comes Tuesday morning,  where “no interest in Alinta” is nicely placed in a story in a couple of papers. The shares rise another 66c.

Wednesday shares go mad, jumping $1.50 to see the shares close at an all time high of $33.50. Since last Friday the shares are up around 10%, which isn’t a bad rise in these unsettled times.

And since the first week of January the shares have risen $13.50 from $20 on record interim earnings, speculation about ownership and a few bids and deals. It has been one of the strongest performing shares of the year so far with that 60% rise.

And then late last night it is all explained: control of LEI has changed in Europe with the sale of the largest stake in its parent, Hochtief AG, to Spain’s biggest contractor, a company called, Actividades de Construccion & Servicios SA (ASC).

It paid 1.26 billion euro ($US1.7 billion) for the 25% of Hochtief held by German investor August von Finck.

ACS purchased 25.08% of Hochtief’s shares at 72 euros each ($120 a share), a 35% premium to the price from 20 December 2007 when von Finck first indicated he might sell.

It was that announcement which set off speculation that Macquarie Bank was sniffing around Hochtief. Macquarie and Leighton are very close, partnering each other in quite a few business bids and deals here, such as the Westlink and the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Leighton is by far the best asset Hochtief has, so as soon as the deal loomed in Europe over the weekend the smarties started buying LEI shares with their ears pinned back. And where’s the ASX?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey