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Impatient LVMH chief cuts stake in Guinness

LVMH cut its 21 per cent stake in Guinness by a third yesterday, raising pounds 559m to help pay for its purchase of a controlling stake in DFS, the world's largest duty-free shopping group. The placing of the stake by Goldman Sachs with about 100 institutions reflected, analysts said, the growing impatience of LVMH chief Bernard Arnault with Guinness's poor share price performance in recent years.

Guinness used the placing as an opportunity to buy in 2.3 per cent of its own shares at a discount to yesterday's opening price of 436p. It paid 414p each for all the shares Goldman Sachs offered it and is thought to have wanted to buy in more, having already bought in 5 per cent of its shares last March for pounds 463m.

The sale is understood to have been driven by a number of factors, including LVMH's rumoured interest in buying the whole of DFS. It currently owns 58.75 per cent. LVMH is also thought to have been unimpressed by Guinness's trading statement earlier this week, in which the beer and spirits group indicated continuing volume and pricing pressures in its United Distillers spirits arm.

LVMH said it planned to retain its remaining 14 per cent stake in Guinness, removing a potential overhang of shares that had acted as a drag on Guinness's share price. According to the terms of a cross-shareholding arrangement between the two, LVMH is now prohibited from increasing its stake above 15 per cent.

LVMH took a shareholding in Guinness in 1988 in the wake of the illegal share support debacle during the then brewing company's bid for United Distillers. Initially both companies held 12 per cent of each other's shares but the holdings had increased to 24 per cent each by 1990.

In January 1994, a restructuring of the agreement was effected to quell City concerns about Guinness having a large holding in what had become a media and luxury goods group.