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Kværner shares jump as talks go on

Yet another deadline was missed Tuesday morning when major shareholders, bankers and the board of Kværner still failed to agree on a rescue plan for the crisis-hit industrial group. The Oslo Stock Exchange rejected Kværner's appeal for a share halt extension, and share prices soared when trading resumed. The company had promised to come up with a rescue plan by the 10am opening of the stock exchange, but none was forthcoming and the company asked for an extension of its share suspension. Company spokesman Trond Andresen said officials were close to agreeing on a plan, "probably within two to three hours." But the Oslo Stock Exchange lost patience and rejected the request for extension, saying it "had not found sufficient reason to uphold the suspension." Trading was cleared to resume at 10:08am with the shares remaining under "special observation." Initial investor reaction was good. Shares jumped from Friday's close of NOK 8.90 to more than NOK 11, indicating that investors believe a rescue plan will be hammered out. "I can only say I'm sorry we haven't managed to come up with a solution yet," Kværner chairman Harald Arnkværn said on Norwegian national radio early Tuesday morning. "We just have to keep working on this." Arnkværn has remained optimistic that a rescue plan will be sealed, but fatigue was showing as he faced television cameras during short breaks in the marathon talks Monday night. Kjell Inge Røkke, whose offshore firm Aker Maritime is Kværner's second-largest shareholder, re-emerged on the scene Monday evening with a revised rescue plan that Arnkværn called "interesting." Yukos Oil of Russia, Kværner's largest shareholder with a 22 percent stake, already had offered its own rescue plan. Both, however, call for the banks to write off large portions of Kværner's staggering debt, something they're reluctant to do. The banks already have extended new emergency loans and extended debt payments to ease an acute cash crunch. The varying proposals aimed at keeping Kværner out of bankruptcy court also represent a power struggle among Yukos, Røkke, Kværner's board and the company's financiers. It now also appears clear that Røkke and Yukos are not working together but that both refuse to pump more capital into Kværner unless the banks excuse millions owed them. Røkke said he is willing to lend Kværner several hundred million crowns that later could be converted to shares giving him up to a 50 percent stake in the ailing engineering and construction firm. Yukos rejects Røkke's plan, worrying it would give Røkke too much control. They want control instead, offering working capital and fresh long-term funding that would give Yukos up to 40 percent of the company.