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Invergordon falls after Fleming sells stake

WHYTE & MACKAY has finally won control of Invergordon Distillers, one of the last two remaining independent grain whisky producers in Scotland, by buying a key 13.5 per cent shareholding from Fleming Investment Management.

The deal, struck at 300p a share, takes Whyte's holding to 54.7 per cent and triggers a mandatory bid for the remainder at the same price, valuing Invergordon at pounds 382m. Whyte owns three malt distilleries and a bottling plant and is ultimately owned by American Brands, the tobacco and drinks group.

Fleming's move appears to have upset other investors. One shareholder, who declined to be named, said: 'I hope they searched their hearts and souls.'

Invergordon, which has been waiting for Whyte to strike since it failed with a 275p bid two years ago, has yet to capitulate. 'We are not blind to the fact that control has passed, but there are issues to sort out like safeguarding the interest of 500 employees,' a spokesman said.

Invergordon's directors own 5.7 per cent, including a 3.3 per cent, pounds 11.5m, stake held by Chris Greig, managing director. Employees own 2 per cent of the shares, many acquired for 3.3p each when Invergordon was bought out of Hawker Siddeley in 1988. It floated on the stock market in 1990 at 135p. The price closed 3p higher at 297p yesterday.

Fleming initiated talks with Whyte only three weeks ago. It followed the breakdown of talks between the two whisky companies just before Invergordon announced its first profits fall in nine years in early September. The fall, from pounds 14.6m to pounds 11.3m pre-tax for the first half, reflected a price war among whisky wholesalers caused by the industry being awash with surplus stocks. In the year to last November Whyte's trading profits fell from pounds 18.9m to pounds 10.5m.