Bottom Line: Greene King's costly brew

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The Independent Online
THE justification for Greene King to continue to hold more than pounds 30m worth of shares in Morland, the rival regional brewer it failed to acquire in 1992, is wearing thin.

The only explicable reason for Greene King spending a net pounds 600,000 a year, or 3 per cent of profits, on retaining the shares is as a defence against a predator.

Few if any brewers would want Greene King and Morland simultaneously and the threat to the stake's value from a subsequent share placing could be a deterrent.

In the meantime results from Greene King's brewing and wholesaling operations openly display the wounds from the beer price war - margins are a mere 11 per cent of of sales, low by industry standards.

The story in the pub estate is similar. Tenanted and managed pubs made trading profits of pounds 25.7m on sales of pounds 85m.

Expansion away from East Anglia offers the best way of moving these figures up but there are not many blocks of good pubs available to buy.

This year has started on a firmer footing, which should see taxable profits rise to pounds 22.3m - a shade more than the 1990/91 result. Earnings per share, however, will benefit from capital allowances from the recent purchase of some Bass pubs and rise from 35.9p to 39p.

The shares, unchanged at 453p, have been the worst performer in the brewing sector over the past 12 months. But there is not yet enough light at the end of the tunnel for the market to consider a prospective price/earnings ratio of 11.6 as cheap.

A 3.8 per cent yield, assuming a rise in dividends from 12.9p to 13.7p, is not hugely attractive.

(Graph omitted)