Hogg grilled by Allied Domecq investors

THE BOARD of Allied Domecq, the UK drinks group, faced a barrage of questions from shareholders yesterday before winning approval for the pounds 2.75bn sale of Allied's UK pubs division to privately owned Punch Taverns.

At an extraordinary general meeting held in London at the Inter-Continental hotel, Hyde Park, one shareholder said: "The management of this sale has been deplorable."

He criticised both the drawn-out nature of the disposal and the mix and match arrangement that the shareholders will be offered by Punch, whereby they can elect to receive a preferred proportion of cash, Punch loan notes or Bass shares. "It would be better dubbed a mess and mess arrangement," he said.

Another shareholder criticised the fixed price agreement in which Allied investors are locked into buying Bass shares at 938.5p, well above Friday's mid-market price of 843.5p.

Referring to the pounds 40m costs incurred during the sale, including pounds 13m stamp duty, a third shareholder said: "The lawyers, printers and stationers, not to mention the Post Office, which have profited from this fiasco, must have thought that Christmas had come early."

Sir Christopher Hogg, Allied's chairman, said: "I realise the complicated nature of the agreement may leave some shareholders bewildered and others dissatisfied." But when asked what he would change if he could begin the process again, he said: "I would make exactly the same decisions."

Before asking the shareholders to pass a special resolution to approve the deal, Sir Christopher presented a trading statement for the 11 months to 31 July. He said underlying trading profit had continued to grow, particularly in Europe and the Americas.

But he warned that reported profits from spirits and wines would be lower this year due to less bulk sales, the impact of currency translations and the disposal of the company's Irish distribution business, Cantrell & Cochrane. Pre-exceptional trading profits for the year ended 31 August 1998 were pounds 721m.

Yesterday's meeting was the culmination of a six-week bid battle for Allied's retail division, which Whitbread initially looked certain to win. Before the meeting, Allied's board had received proxy votes from a majority of shareholders, 98 per cent of whom were in favour of the sale.

Under the terms of the agreement, Punch will pay pounds 2.75bn for Allied's 3,500 UK pubs, its 25 per cent stake in soft drinks company Britannia and a half share in drinks store venture First Quench.