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Bass keep City guessing on acquisition

Bass yesterday kept the City guessing about whether it was on the verge on making a large acquisition. The giant hotels and drinks group declined to comment on the strong speculation over the past week that it was considering a bid for Ladbroke, the betting shops and Hilton hotels company.

Sir Ian Prosser, chairman and chief executive, did hint, however, that Bass would be prepared to make a big bid if the right opportunity arose. Announcing better-than -expected full-year profits of pounds 599m, he said there would more than likely be further consolidation in the brewing industry in the wake of Scottish & Newcastle's recent acquisition of Courage.

Analysts interpreted that comment as a sign that Bass was interested in buying Carlsberg Tetley, the third-largest brewer, which is jointly owned by Allied Domecq and Carlsberg of Denmark.

A resurfacing of rumours that Sir Christopher Hogg is in line to succeed Michael Jackaman as chairman of Allied Domecq also fuelled speculation that Allied would eventually be broken up, starting with the sale of Carlsberg Tetley.

Sir Ian again declined to comment on this particular piece of speculation, but openly admitted that Bass was losing a small amount of market share in addition to being toppled from pole position in the brewing league by S&N.

However, he stressed that "size was not everything" and it was more important to grow strategically and through product innovation. The City imbibed that message fully yesterday and marked the shares up 26p to a high of 695p.

Analysts upgraded forecasts on the news that Bass had increased pre-tax profits by 11.3 per cent to pounds 599m in the year to 30 September and raised the dividend total by 7.6 per cent to 22.7p. The City expects Bass to make profits of about pounds 650m in the current year and pounds 710m in 1996/97.

The main driver behind the profits growth was the franchised Holiday Inns business, which operates 2,080 hotels with 370,000 rooms. Operating profits from the hotels climbed 8.6 per cent to pounds 164m. A further 487 hotels will be added to the chain in the next 18 months, most of them in the US.

The company's brewing and pub operations also had a good year, with operating profits from pubs up from pounds 220m to pounds 240m, and brewing profits improved from pounds 140m to pounds 144m.

But the hot summer and the effect of the National Lottery hit the leisure operations. Gala bingo clubs saw profits dip pounds 4m to pounds 36m, and Coral betting shops returned a static pounds 17m.

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