Private Investor: The interest in AG Barr is enough to drive me to drink

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The Independent Online

Well, it's always nice to see a share go up by a fifth so quickly, but my pleasure was tainted by the thought that, once again, one of my well-regarded, well-managed and, I might say, one of my well-chosen medium-cap investments was about to fall to the predators once again. Just like AG Barr's boozy counterpart Belhaven, in fact, the Scottish brewery that was downed in one by Greene King.

During Thursday, the shares fell from their recent high point of more than £10 to 950p or so. That's still about double what I paid for them a few years ago, when I expected nothing more than some steady, unspectacular growth and reliable dividends.

That is a course I would be very happy to see resumed, as AG Barr continues to deliver its Irn-Bru, Tizer and Orangina products to a gently growing audience. As a business in which there is still a strong Barr family interest, and which (from its annual reports) seems to be run on commendably old-fashioned Scottish lines.

I can't see any great interest for anyone in seeing it taken over, not even for the shareholders, who, I think, have done very well in the past few years without any help from the slumbering soft-drinks giants of the world. Coca-Cola may well be bigger than Irn-Bru in every market in the world - except Scotland - but I know which has enjoyed superior management lately.

Which leads me on to my next takeover share, easynet. Nothing to do with easyJet, easyCafe, easyCruise or any of Stelios's other businesses, apart from that familiar-sounding name. No, this is a broadband business that has been bought up by BSkyB; as it happens, also a company I hold shares in.

BSkyB has been a lacklustre performer. Its main TV subscription satellite service is being beaten up by the digital terrestrial system Freeview, where you only have to pay £50 for a box and you get all sorts of interesting channels (and some rubbish). The markets don't seem to like the way BSkyB has been buying viewers, which never really bothered me. The situation is a little complicated by the fact that BSkyB owns a quarter-share in Freeview anyway. The markets don't seem to have been too impressed with the BSkyB move and the shares are now at about the 500p mark, pretty much a year's low and one-fifth below where I bought them.

Things haven't been improved by the announcement by BT that it is going to start delivering digital TV on the internet. So BT is a telecoms company going into TV, and Sky is a TV broadcaster going into telecoms, or the internet.

Yet I wouldn't write BSkyB off. For a start, the existing business is not kaput, even if it has its problems. I notice, for example, that you can now get free, illegal, feeds from Chinese websites of English Premiership football games (albeit with a Mandarin commentary). Second, there is that stake in Freeview as a hedge. Then there is the Murdoch factor - BSkyB chief executive James and his dad Rupert.

Rupes was a bit slow on the uptake when it came to the internet, but now he tells Fortune magazine "the internet is almost the ultimate way of giving people choice. Before, we were pushing media at them. Now, the new generation and the generations to follow are going to be pulling out of the universe what media they want to feel relevant." Never too late to learn, sure, but I hope they start moving BSkyB online very soon indeed.

Email: s.o'

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