Allied under attack

Directors facing axe unless performance improves over next 12 months
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MICHAEL JACKAMAN and fellow directors at Allied Domecq will be under pressure in the coming months, after the drinks group shocked the City last week with a downbeat trading statement.

"Another year of this sort of performance, and there will be calls for heads to roll," said one leading analyst. "Most people in the City are still discontented with the quality of management."

One large institutional shareholder said: "We're not very happy, but we take a good deal of comfort from the fact that Sir Christopher Hogg has gone in (as non-executive deputy chairman). I don't think he'll sit around. I think there will be some changes as a result of his going in."

Mr Jackaman, the Allied chairman, warned on Thursday that recent food and pub disposals would dilute earnings, while profits in the brewing business, which fell 21 per cent to pounds 67m in the year to March, would remain under pressure due to overcapacity and further cost-cutting measures. Analysts now expect group profits for the year to August of between pounds 660m and pounds 680m before any restructuring charges. No comparable figure is available due to a change of year-end.

Mr Jackaman and chief executive Tony Hales came to the helm at Allied- Lyons shortly after its treasury department lost pounds 150m on risky bets in the foreign exchange market. But the shares have had a poor run under their auspices, underperforming the market by 13 per cent in the last year alone.

Allied is in the middle of a pounds 500m programme of disposals, which is designed to focus the group on spirits and retailing following its merger a year ago with Spanish drinks group Domecq.

In the latest food manufacturing sale, Allied last month sold its Tetley tea and coffee business to a management buy-in for pounds 190m. It has also sold Lyons Cakes to Tomkins and Lyons Biscuits to Hillsdown.

But there is considerable unease in the City that Allied has failed to unlock any hidden worth in the process. "One of the sad things to see is a lot of value evaporating," said another analyst. "The unbundling has shown the sum of the parts to be less than the whole."

Criticism centres on the way businesses have been sold. "To give a clear indication that a business is non-core is one thing, but to take a year or more to sell it is something else," the broker continued. "You have to exit quickly. Delaying only leads to lower prices. Take tea, the jewel in the Allied's food business crown. It was an innovative business that launched the round tea-bag and should have fetched twice as much as it did."

But another brewing analyst, Julie Bower at ABN-Amro Hoare Govett, takes a more sanguine view: "Things can't get much worse from here. Strategic changes require cultural and organisational changes that take a long time to put in place."

The Carlsberg-Tetley brewing business is the next earmarked sale. The deal ought to net Allied pounds 300m, but analysts fear it may be lucky to end up with pounds 100m.