Private Investor: Come back with another offer, Mr Green. Soon

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The Independent Online

The only question now for Marks & Spencer shareholders, including me, is not "if" but "when". When, that is, Philip Green will return to renew his efforts to take over the company. It seems a long time ago now, but it was only a couple of months back that Mr Green was putatively offering some 400p per share, in some combination of cash and/or a paper stake in the new, Green-dominated M&S group.

The only question now for Marks & Spencer shareholders, including me, is not "if" but "when". When, that is, Philip Green will return to renew his efforts to take over the company. It seems a long time ago now, but it was only a couple of months back that Mr Green was putatively offering some 400p per share, in some combination of cash and/or a paper stake in the new, Green-dominated M&S group.

Then there was the tender offer for the shares, organised by Stuart Rose and the current management team. And now another set of grim results. We're talking about £100m in interim profits, or £20m excluding exceptional items. We're talking about the closure of the "Lifestore" scheme almost as soon as it got under way. And we're talking about the cull of another bunch of executives who, I note, will cost no less than £2m to be shot of, in compensation money. "Rewards for failure" is an overused term, but you cannot avoid it when looking at the performance of this lot.

So, the question is one of timing now. How long will Mr Green wait before he comes again? He has to wait until 14 February under the City's rules on takeovers. Can we shareholders, who were foolish enough to cavil at his overtures in the summer, be foolish enough to spurn him again? Once bitten and all that.

It's not for the likes of me to try to second-guess a man like Green. Were I in possession of 10 per cent of his ability, I would be wealthy beyond my dreams. He's not the sort of chap who buys into M&S and then hopes against hope that a team of clowns running it can stop throwing buckets of feathers and custard pies around long enough to see the mess this great business has got into and do something about it, sharpish.

No. Mr Green is the type who will wait until the morale of shareholders, staff and managers is at a sufficiently low ebb (but when the business still has a hope of turnaround) to make his move. The chances are we'll have to settle for rather less than 400p next time. I shall be hanging on until Mr Green comes to call again. I hope he will not be long delayed. After the Christmas trading news would seem as good a time as any, I guess.

A quick review of my recent punts reveals that Matrix Communications, a small IT outfit, continues to make progress. I bought at 140p and it's now crested the 150p mark. For a small company that receives comparatively scant attention from the press, it is certainly doing well.

There was one recent newspaper report that said that an AA-rated fund manager named Giles Hargreave had bought shares in Matrix after last week's optimistic trading statement and talk of an early dividend. Mr Hargreave bought 25,000 shares for his Marlborough Special Situations fund last week and that takes his holding to 350,000 shares or 1.2 per cent of Matrix's £42m market capitalisation. He must have nerves, and other anatomical bits, of steel.

Which leaves me pondering one other investment that managed to double. I bought shares in Go-Ahead Group in 2001 for 660p each. I still have them and they are up to £13.30 per share this week, fuelled, I think, by some profitable franchises and the long-term trend to consolidation in the sector.

Great, you might think. Except that I only bought 10 shares, as I wanted a token holding so that I could keep an eye on the company's activities, receive the annual reports and the like, and because they ran the commuter rail line I used and I was suspicious of their intentions. So one of my investments has been in a company I hated and which I never expected to do anything much. Even at such microscopic levels, I could sell the shares and make a profit, perhaps enough for a day return to London Bridge station. Therefore, I am now looking for other loathsome companies in which to invest my pension fund. There are quite a few to choose from. Capita might be good idea.

s.o'grady@independent.co.uk

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