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Lloyds victory puts Gehe ahead of Boots

Gehe, the German pharmaceutical distributor, yesterday consolidated its hold on Britain's high street pharmacies after it emerged victorious from its long-running battle for Lloyds Chemists.

Victory was handed to the German group, which raised its offer to pounds 684m on Friday, after rival bidder UniChem bowed out of the fray, saying it would not increase its own offer. The announcement allowed Gehe to swoop on over 57 per cent of Lloyds' shares, taking its holding and acceptances to a commanding 78.4 per cent. UniChem, which netted a profit of around pounds 3m selling its near 10 per cent stake in Lloyds to Gehe yesterday, saw its shares jump 13.5p to 269.5p on relief that it had decided not to top the new bid, which has been recommended by the Lloyds board.

Gehe will now own one of the largest chains of pharmacies in the UK. Lloyds' 900-odd outlets, added to the 360 outlets in its existing AAH group, will create a new chain of over 1,200 chemists, just ahead of Boots, hitherto the market leader. The group will command around 33 per cent of drugs distribution to independent chemists, a couple of percentage points ahead of UniChem.

Dieter Kammerer, Gehe's chairman, said he could not reveal full details of his plans for the new group ahead of a meeting with Lloyds management tomorrow. But he said the first task would be streamlining the two organisations, particularly the distribution network, which largely duplicates the one belonging to AAH. This would be "straightened out pretty fast", he said, and could involve redundancies, although they would not be on a large scale.