City cheers happy hour at Bass

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The Independent Online

Bass is at last taking the pledge. After 223 years in the business, it has decided to forswear brewing on the advice of its City friends.

Bass is at last taking the pledge. After 223 years in the business, it has decided to forswear brewing on the advice of its City friends.

Making beer is a pastime that will forever be associated with the Bass name, but it has done little for the company's reputation. Brewing, a mature industry faced with investigation by the Competition Commission, is the sort of business the City frowns upon. Shares that were worth more than £11 in 1996 closed on Friday at a mere 694p. Investors will be relieved that Bass is changing.

The sale of its Bass Brewers, possibly to South African Breweries, should raise at least £1.8bn. That cash is likely to contribute to the continued transformation of Bass from a staid brewer to a dynamic leisure group. Certainly it has the brands. Its hotels, which will form the core of its future development, include the Inter-Continental and Holiday Inn.

Domestically, Bass remains one of the country's biggest landlords. Unlike some pub estates that have fallen into disrepair, Bass boasts successful brands, like All Bar One, more likely to attract hungry diners with money to burn than thirsty topers on a shoestring.

Overseeing these businesses is a management with an eye for a bargain, judging by the acquisition of 550 pubs from Punch Taverns, following its purchase of Allied Domecq's pub estate. Most observers agree that the £995m Bass paid for some of the estate's finest outlets was a snip.

The drinks sector is not the City's cup of tea so Bass's decision to quit brewing should go down well. Of course, as long as dot com mania continues, real businesses like this will suffer. Still, cyberspace does not pose the kind of threat to hotels and pubs that it does to the high street. When the internet euphoria ends and the hangover sets in, the attractions of a sober Bass will come into their own. Buy.

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