Mitchells & Butlers shrugs off its troubles

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The Independent Online

There is no chief executive and investors regard the board as in complete disarray, yet sales keep chugging forward at Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), the pub group behind All Bar One and Harvester that recently fended off a nil-premium takeover bid from 26 per cent shareholder Joe Lewis.

There was a small revolt at the group's annual meeting yesterday against the re-election of some board members from shareholders worried about the overbearing influence of Mr Lewis, pictured.

More than 14 per cent of investors withheld votes or voted against the re-election of Ron Robson and Doug McMahon, who represent Lewis' investment vehicle, Piedmont.

M&B reported that sales over Christmas – the nine weeks to 21 January – were up 6.5 per cent.

The board is down to just five men after the departure of chairman Simon Burke and non-executive director Michael Balfour.

The continued uncertainty created by Mr Lewis' presence makes finding new directors difficult.

Geof Collyer at Deutsche Bank said: "The potential for further instability caused by increases in the Piedmont stake reinforces our view that M&B remains pretty much uninvestible."

Paul Hickman at Peel Hunt said: "It has to negotiate organisational changes, and lacks a chief executive, and investors must also accept uncertainty on the intentions of Joe Lewis, an irregular board and the continued lack of a dividend. Hence we believe the current discount to sector, is likely to persist."

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