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P.M. BRIEFING : Pennwalt Signs Friendly Merger

<i> From Times wire services </i>

Pennwalt Corp., the specialty chemicals firm on the run from investor group Centaur Partners, today slammed the door on its hostile bidder by signing a $1.05-billion friendly merger with French oil giant Societe Nationale Elf Aquitaine.

Philadelphia-based Pennwalt has been seeking a “white knight” since December to evade New York-based Centaur’s $758-million offer. Pennwalt said Elf Aquitaine will pay $132 a share in cash, topping Centaur’s $110-a-share bid.

Pennwalt is a diversified producer of specialty chemicals, and chemicals account for over one-third of Elf Aquitaine’s $20 billion in annual sales. Elf Aquitaine, which is controlled by the French government, has global interests in oil, gas, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Pennwalt will keep its headquarters in Philadelphia and retain its name. Shares of Pennwalt jumped $12.875 to $129.875 this morning after word of the merger plan.

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