Compass pips rival to control of Eurest

Compass of the UK was yesterday confirmed as the world's biggest contract- catering group after reaching agreement to acquire a controlling stake in Eurest France, the third-largest caterer in that country. The acquisition, pipping arch-rivals Sodexho of France, means Compass will have complete coverage of Europe's largest catering markets.

No price was put on the deal, but Sodexho said last week that it was willing to pay Fr694m (pounds 90m)for the one third management stake which Compass is set to acquire.

It follows a vote late on Tuesday by the managers of Eurest France to sell Compass their 33 per cent shareholding, carrying voting rights over 57.9 per cent of the equity. The decision in effect gives the British group control over the group. Compass already owns a one third stake as a result of its pounds 589m acquisition last year of a controlling interest in Eurest International from Accor, the French hotels group.

Sodexho, which owns the remaining 33 per cent of Eurest France, was disgruntled by the Compass victory in the race to acquire Eurest International. It said then that it was "surprised" not to be informed in advance of the sale and has subsequently taken legal action against Accor. It was involved in separate negotiations to acquire the French business.

Shares in Compass dipped 2p to 545p yesterday, but many analysts welcomed the deal. France has been seen as the biggest gap in the European operations of Compass.

COMPANY RESULTS

Turnover pounds Pre-tax pounds EPS Dividend

Ask Central (F) 3.08m (1.02m) 0.23m (-4.7m) 1.71p (-0.04p) nil (nil)

Havelock Europa (F) 55.7m (39.6m) 5.28m (4.01m) 13.5p (11.2p) 3.6p (3p)

Hemingway Props (F) - (-) 2.87m (2.76m) 1.57p (1.56p) 0.5p (0.4p)

Ryan Hotels (F) Ir26.3m (Ir24.5m) Ir2.79m (Ir1.95m) 3.67p (2.4p) 1.5p (1.25p)

Signet Group (F) 895m (924m) 25.0m (8.14m) -8.4p (-9p) nil (nil)

Smiths Industries (I) 466m (414m) 69.5m (58.2m) 15.4p (13.2p) 5.6p (5.05p)

(F) - Final (I) - Interim (N) - Nine months

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