Goldsmiths comes clean over Signet

BY JOHN SHEPHERD

A war of words broke out yesterday between Signet, the troubled jewellery chain formerly known as Ratners, and Goldsmiths Group, its much smaller high street rival.

Goldsmiths was coerced by the Stock Exchange to issue a clarifying statement over the recent speculation, particularly in the weekend press, about its takeover aspirations towards Signet.

The company, headed by Jurek Piasecki, said it would consider acquiring parts of Signet in the right circumstances. It added that it had undertaken feasibility studies in conjunction with venture capitalists on the merit of acquiring parts of Signet's UK jewellery arm, but denied it was involved in negotiations with the group.

The denial of an imminent takeover bid by Goldsmiths cut short a rise in Signet's share price.

After touching 19p in early dealings, the price closed 0.75p higher on the day at 17.5p.

Mr Piasecki said later: "Signet's refused to talk to us. Signet cannot trade out of its current situation. They have to restructure or sell part of the US, or UK business.

"We have looked at the broader picture for Signet. At £100m it would be a snip, at £500m it would be too expensive. We are always interested in acquiring different units."

He said his overtures to Signet, which is valued on the stock market at less than £50m but considerably more if it was broken up, had been rebuffed for the past two years.

Not so, retorted Signet. A spokesman said: "That's completely wrong. If he [Piasecki] was to put forward an offer in the proper way then we would consider that. We have a duty to. However, he has not done that.

"The only think that Jim Muirhead [head of Signet] knows about it [a bid] is what he has read in the press. Goldsmiths is a £26m business, talking about a £250m business. It's an odd way to go about negotiations."

There were also unconfirmed reports yesterday that Signet was coming under more pressure from US preference share-holders to hold an extraordinary meeting to vote on proposals to try to find a buyer for the group.

The spokesman for Signet said that as of last night the company had yet to receive a formal request for a meeting, despite public protests by some US investors last week that they were mounting a campaign to break up the group.

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