Bottom Line: Whyte in a hurry

LAST week witnessed the disappearance of North British Distillery, one of only three independent grain whisky distillers left in Scotland, into the clutches of Grand Metropolitan and Highland Distilleries. So how long will it be before Invergordon Distillers is gulped down by Whyte & Mackay?

Soon, probably, and a price north of 320p a share is what close observers of the industry are expecting.

It is an urgent matter, if only because Whyte has laid its cards on the table. It has tried to dislodge Fleming Investment Management's loyalty towards its 13 per cent stake in Invergordon, a company it soundly defended two years ago when it rejected 275p a share from American Brands, owner of Whyte & Mackay.

Time is also against Whyte & Mackay in the face of the gradual but inevitable erosion of the surplus stocks of grain whisky that have dogged the distilling industry for the past couple of years. As a result of this Invergordon's margins will soon start to recover sharply.

Whyte is not exactly in the best of negotiating positions to secure a controlling position cheaply.

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