Small Talk: CI Traders could pay dearly for chairman's comments

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The Independent Online

CI Traders, the AIM-listed mini-conglomerate that controls supermarkets, car dealerships, breweries, pubs and property in the Channel Islands, has run into difficulties with its purchase last month of two former Safeway stores from Wm Morrison for £51m.

Sales at the stores have taken a dive after ill-judged public comments from Tom Scott, the chairman of CI Traders, who said islanders - in contrast to people in Morrisons' north of England heartland - were happy to pay higher prices for higher quality groceries. Changes to product lines and perceived price rises have caused a storm.

The company remains confident in its acquisition, but observers believe that the débâcle could have knock-on effects at its other supermarkets.

Easier rebellion

Hundreds of shareholders locked into Easier, the cash shell which was delisted last year after its auditors resigned, could be close to getting answers about what has happened to the £5.4m unaccounted for.

Rebel shareholders, led by Neville Buch, the chairman of the exhibitions group Tarsus, have organised an extraordinary meeting to kick out the obstructive chairman, David Gough, and other directors. Easier ignored the rebels' requisition, forcing them to go through the courts to set up the vote to put Mr Buch on the board to investigate what happened.

Cash shell surge

The average cash shell outperforms other types of flotation, according to DigitalLook, the finance website. The 125 shell companies to have listed since the start of 2004 have risen by 40 per cent on average, even after the correction on AIM since March, compared with 18 per cent for other types of new company.

In most cases, the real surge in performance comes after a real operating business or real assets have been reversed into the shell. White Nile comes top, up 1,310 per cent before its latest suspension, pending its disputed deal to buy exploration rights in south Sudan. But the strong average cash shell performance masks extraordinary volatility, and some investors have lost more than half their cash.

ZGroup targets £29m float

The planned float of ZGroup will be the first test of whether Dur- lacher's client relationships have survived its takeover by Panmure Gordon. The modestly profitable software firm - whose products include kit to make dial-up internet more speedy and to ease internet access when out of the country - is raising £4m to launch a secure file-sharing product. Its two young founders - James True, pictured left, and Jack Bekhor - hope the float will value their company at between £22m and £29m.

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