Amber Day opens up to investors: Nick Gilbert on an attempt to restore confidence

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The Independent Online
PHILIP GREEN, the chairman of Amber Day, is permitting the auditors Coopers & Lybrand to hold individual meetings with institutional shareholders to try to restore confidence in the discount stores group. The meetings have been taking place in the run-up to Amber Day's financial year-end on 31 July.

The group's shares have plummeted from a high of 109p earlier this year to 41p after criticism of Mr Green's management style, revelations of commercial deals with individuals who are also shareholders in the company, and abrupt boardroom departures. In the past six months, the value of Mr Green's 9.4 million shares has been cut by more than two- thirds to less than pounds 4m.

One Green supporter who has lost out recently is Howard Soley, a fund manager with the Prudential, itself the second- largest shareholder in Amber Day, with nearly 8 per cent.

The company's annual return states that Mr Soley held 81,250 shares last November - a stake then worth more than pounds 100,000. 'I have had the holding for years and it has never changed,' Mr Soley said.

According to the Prudential, Mr Soley bought his Amber Day shares after the Prudential decided to back Mr Green. He complied with the insurance giant's guidelines on avoiding conflicts of interest by obtaining permission to buy the shareholding. Midland Montagu Asset Management - the largest Amber Day shareholder, with a 14.5 per cent stake - and John Govett have held meetings with Coopers & Lybrand.

Geoff Hall, a director of Midland Montagu Asset Management, said: 'We felt it sensible to ask if the company's auditors would make themselves available to discuss Amber Day's accounting and business practices. Very unusually, they said they were prepared to do that on an individual basis.'

Mr Hall came away from the talks satisfied with the outcome.

Shareholder anxieties have focused on deals between Mr Green and Stephen Kay, a London entrepreneur who runs the Intervision video business. Amber Day sold him a large stock of pre-recorded video tapes for more than pounds 1m. Mr Kay, who at one time owed substantial sums on the deal, was also a heavy buyer of Amber Day shares.

The Coopers auditor David Caddy has reassured institutional shareholders that Mr Kay's debt will be cleared by the end of the financial year, which would tidy up the balance sheet.