Maytag said yesterday it will consider a sweetened offer from Whirlpool, reopening the bidding contest four weeks before shareholders were...

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Maytag said yesterday it will consider a sweetened offer from Whirlpool, reopening the bidding contest four weeks before shareholders were to vote on the company’s sale to a private group.

Whirlpool, the largest U.S. appliance maker, will be furnished financial information to shape its formal bid, Maytag said in replying to an $18-a-share offer Whirlpool made late Friday. Maytag had rejected Whirlpool’s bid of $17 a share in cash and stock Thursday.

The nation’s third-largest appliance maker said its decision doesn’t allow a group led by Ripplewood Holdings to cancel its agreement to buy Maytag for $14 a share in cash.

Whirlpool is vying for brands including Jenn- Air and Amana that would give it almost half the U.S. market for washers, dryers, refrigerators and ovens. Both suitors are expected to increase overseas production to boost profit at Maytag.

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“I think by going to $18 Whirlpool indicated they’re very, very serious about this,” said Longbow Research analyst David MacGregor, adding he doubts Ripplewood would respond before Whirlpool firms its bid.

Maytag affirmed its support for the sale to Ripplewood, which shareholders are to vote on Aug. 19.

Maytag said it won’t share “competitively sensitive information” until Whirlpool gives a clearer picture of the stock portion of the offer, how it would address antitrust concerns raised by a merger, and when the deal could be completed.