BET starts week of crucial talks to woo investors

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The Independent Online
BET begins a round of crucial meetings with institutional investors this week in a bid to reverse a growing belief in the city that Rentokil is close to winning its pounds 1.9bn takeover.

John Clark, BET chief executive, hopes he can stop the steady selling of the company's shares which has depressed the price and left it stubbornly just above the value of Rentokil's offer.

BET's advisers are believed to feel frustrated that the "positive news" contained in its defence documents has yet to be fully understood by the institutions.

Fidelity, which owned more than 5 per cent of BET at the start of the bid, is thought to have reduced its holding of 50 million shares to 18 million.

"Fidelity is selling a million every other day. That is why the price is depressed," one BET source said.

Fidelity is believed to have bought its shares for around 90p-100p, and has been making a big profit on the sales.

Arbitrageurs from America are said to have been heavy buyers of the shares being sold by London institutions.

With BET shares at 204p, up 1p yesterday, they remain about 1p above Rentokil's cash and shares offer, an indication that the market believes the bidder is unlikely to raise the offer much further. Rentokil has until 12 April to increase the terms of the offer, currently nine new shares plus 800p in cash for every 20 BET shares.

Last week, Paul Morland, analyst at NatWest Markets, said he believed that Rentokil might not raise its offer as any increase could have a negative impact on Rentokil's earnings. However, investors are expecting some upward movement, if only because the city rarely accepts that the first offer is final.

BET believes its lacklustre share price is not the issue at this stage in the bid. "This is just the beginning for us. The important thing is now to get around the institutions," a spokesman said.

Rentokil yesterday said it had received acceptances totalling 3.42 per cent. Clive Thompson, chief executive, said: "Rentokil's offer for BET is now entering its closing stages. During the past six weeks BET has made a number of statements, further promises, and has used the occasion to launch this season's new spring structure. We at Rentokil have not been impressed."

But Rentokil believes BET has very little left in its defence to convince shareholders of its case. BET yesterday issued a dividend forecast for next year of at least a 20 per cent growth to 6.15p. This follows the 5.1p already forecast for the current financial year, which ended on Friday.

Rentokil said the forecast had little credibility, as it was the current board that cut the dividend in 1992 and 1993, despite promises to the contrary. BET said the company was being restructured in the early 1990s but was now on a growth path.

BET has until Friday, day 39 of the bid, to publish any further information material to its defence.