Chairman steps down at Foster's

Nobby Clark yesterday announced he was leaving as chairman of Foster's Brewing, fuelling speculation that Broken Hill Proprietary might soon reduce its 38 per cent shareholding in one of the world's biggest brewing groups.

Mr Clark took the helm five year's ago after John Elliott, one of Australia's golden boys of the eighties, fell from grace after announcing the country's biggest-ever corporate loss of A$1.31bn (pounds 650m) for what was then known as Elders IXL. Mr Elliott recently pleaded not guilty to charges made in court committal proceedings of alleged theft from the company of A$66.5m. The trial is expected to be heard next year.

Brian Loton, chairman of BHP, yesterday declined to rule out the possibility of the company selling its stake. At BHP's annual meeting he told shareholders: "I can't promise what the future will be."

BHP's results for the year to May included a A$542m writedown of its Foster's stake, equal to A$1.4 a share. Mr Lotton said the writedown did not represent a loss for BHP on its Foster's stock. "If and when we sell the shares, then we will crystallise a gain or loss," he added.

The departure of Mr Clark surprised drinks analysts. Mr Clark has been instrumental in an overhaul of Foster's since Mr Elliott's acrimonious ousting. The company recently sold Courage in the UK to Scottish & Newcastle Breweries for pounds 425m.

The favourite among analysts to succeed Mr Clark is John Ralph, a director of Foster's Brewing and former managing director of CRA.

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