Pressure grows on Botts to make firm offer for brewer W&D

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The Independent Online

Botts & company, the private investment group which is stalking Wolverhampton & Dudley, the UK's biggest regional brewer, was yesterday being urged to put a firm offer on the table and state clearly its intentions for the business.

Botts & company, the private investment group which is stalking Wolverhampton & Dudley, the UK's biggest regional brewer, was yesterday being urged to put a firm offer on the table and state clearly its intentions for the business.

Vanessa James, a fund manager at Legal & General, which holds a 2.45 per cent stake in W&D, said: "My view is that if people want to make a bid, they should get it on the table.... I have no idea what has been offered or what has been said."

W&D rejected an indicative approach from Botts, believed to be worth at least 500p a share, on Friday. It was criticised by some shareholders but stood by its decision, claiming the offer was "too uncertain". It is understood Botts telephoned W&D briefly yesterday morning, but was told that the management's position was unchanged.

An industry analyst said: "Wolves has had a lot of flak. But until there is an unconditional bid on the table, you can't blame them for wanting to see something more cast iron."

Botts, whose bid is being fronted by Robert Breare, the leisure entrepreneur who set up the InnSpired pubs group, is seeking further substantial talks with W&D's management. It wants to be allowed access to the pubs and breweries group's accounts before tabling a formal approach. Botts is due to make an annoucement today.

But W&D is reluctant to allow its predator exclusive access to its books. It hopes to defend itself against a takeover and, failing that, to conduct an open auction to release the full value of the business. Botts has clearly indicated its preference for a friendly deal, but has not ruled out going hostile.

Graeme Eadie, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, said: "What Robert Breare and Botts want to do is to get an agreement from Wolves. But if nothing comes out of that, I think we will see them go direct to shareholders."

Mr Eadie believes the Botts-Beare team will succeed in winning control of W&D and that some or all of the group's four breweries are likely to be sold or closed as a result of the deal.

W&D has looked vulnerable since May, when it unveiled a slump in profit margins caused by over-aggressive price discounting in its managed pubs. It has been criticised for its rapid expansion; last year it paid a total of £536.3m for Mansfield Brewery and Marston, Thompson & Evershed. W&D shares closed up 20.5p at 471.5p.

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