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Hambros claims investors' support

Hambros said yesterday it believed its shareholders were staying loyal to the board in the face of a campaign to force a break-up led by Jim Mellon, chief executive of Regent Pacific, the Hong Kong investment group.

Sir "Chips" Keswick, Hambros' chief executive, said: "We have seen no sign of support for Mr Mellon's suggestions."

Regent, which last contacted Hambros by phone just over a week ago, owns 3 per cent of the group and said last month it was meeting other shareholders to put its case. It has been pressing for a sale of the Hambro Countrywide estate agency and financial services offshoot and other subsidiaries, but Sir Chips dismissed this. "We are builders, not breakers," he said.

Sir Chips is to become chairman next July when Lord Hambro retires, but the chief executive post is not going to be filled. Sir Chips said he would be a "full-time working chairman" rather than chairman and chief executive.

Michael Sorkin, a deputy chairman responsible for the investment group, and Charles Perrin, chief executive of the banking subsidiary, will continue to report to Sir Chips when he becomes chairman. The funds business has pounds 7bn under management.

Sir Chips was announcing a a return to the black at Hambros, with a profit for the half- year to September of pounds 35m before tax, compared with a loss of pounds 7.7m a year ago. The swing was helped by a sharp fall in bad debt provisions to pounds 5.9m from pounds 24.6m a year ago.

Investment column, page 23