BET rejects attack on pledge to lift dividend

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BET fired another shot in its defence against Rentokil yesterday amid growing speculation that the current pounds 1.9bn bid will have to be raised to secure victory.

As the takeover battle become increasingly acrimonious, BET rejected attacks on its promises to raise its dividend by issuing new information about debt levels.

BET said that as at 30 March its estimated net debt had fallen to less than pounds 60m, from pounds 114m at 30 September last year. The company said it paid, net of disposals, pounds 65m cash on acquisitions and pounds 39m in dividends during the whole of the last financial year. BET said it was reacting to Wednesday's Rentokil statement questioning BET's ability to fund its increased dividend commitments and its acquisition programme.

John Clark, chief executive of BET, said: "Judging from its press release, Rentokil appears to have based its inadequate offer on an assumption that net debt amounted to more than pounds 114m. The estimated level of less than pounds 60m further demonstrates the utter inadequacy of Rentokil's offer."

Rentokil defended its claims. Clive Thompson, chief executive, said: "The simple fact is that, despite BET's claims to be cash-generative, it is not. It has negative cash flow and its cash position is deteriorating."