Arnault plays a waiting game

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The Independent Online
Bernard Arnault is planning to leave his next charm offensive on the shareholders of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness until the last possible moment before meetings are held for investors to vote on the pounds 23bn merger of the two UK drinks giants.

The controversial head of LVMH, the French luxury goods group, is likely to hold off for the next few weeks at least, leaving GrandMet and Guinness guessing on what his strategy will be. The delaying tactic raises the possibility that Mr Arnault will not unveil new plans to block the deal until the eve of the shareholders vote, not due until October at the earliest, in an attempt to catch the UK drinks companies by surprise and postpone consummation of the deal further.

An LVMH spokesman said yesterday: "We have no new charm offensive planned and we are definitely not arranging new appointments with GrandMet and Guinness shareholders at the moment. The ball is in the other side's court. Of course as the October deadline for the competition inquiry result and the subsequent shareholder votes on the deal gets nearer we will want to meet shareholders to tell them of our latest plans."

Mr Arnault has no plans to meet Guinness and GrandMet in the near future.

GrandMet and Guinness are due to report to the European Commission on Thursday in an attempt to counter claims that the deal raises competition worries. Both groups are confident that they will not have to make major concessions, such as giving up brands, to get the deal through. LVMH will not raise objections to the deal at the EC hearing.

It wants to form a three way spirits company, incorporating Moet Hennessy, its champagne and cognac business, and United Distillers and IDV, the spirits arms of Guinness and GrandMet respectively.

LVMH is still the largest shareholder of GrandMet and Guinness, owning more than 11 per cent of each company. Analysts expect it to carry on selling its down its stake in Guinness to fund the acquisition of more GrandMet shares.