Cider group Matthew Clark soars on news of bid talks

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The Independent Online
SHARES IN Matthew Clark soared yesterday as the troubled Diamond White and Dry Blackthorn Cider group was forced to reveal that it was in talks with a potential bidder.

In a brief stock exchange statement, the company admitted it was in "preliminary discussions" with an unnamed buyer. Matthew Clark shares closed up 26p at 160p.

Analysts said interest could be coming from a trade buyer or financial group.

Pernod Ricard, the French drinks giant, and rival cider maker HP Bulmer, which makes Strongbow and Woodpecker ciders, have both considered bidding for Matthew Clark in the past but decided against it.

However, according to City sources, reports that the company's discredited management is preparing a buyout of the company are wide of the mark.

Analysts said buyers might be interested in separating the group's cider operations from its drinks division, which bottles Strathmore mineral water and has a profitable wholesaling arm.

Shares in Matthew Clark recently hit a new low of 116p. Even after the recent rally the group is valued at just pounds 140m. In the year to last April, turnover was pounds 553m.

Once a City favourite, Matthew Clark shares have slumped from a high of 801p after it issued a series of disastrous profit warnings.

Sales of the group's Diamond White cider were hit by the rising popularity of alcopop drinks. Ciders have also been hit by a poor apple harvest and a lack of spending on marketing.

So far, however, chief executive Peter Aikens has resisted pressure from shareholders to step down.