Scoot joins ill-fated '95 per cent club' as shares hit five-year lows

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The Independent Online

Scoot.com joined the infamous "95 per cent" club yesterday when its shares tumbled to five-year lows after it unveiled more than a tripling in 2000 losses and took steps that could see the company put up for sale.

Scoot.com joined the infamous "95 per cent" club yesterday when its shares tumbled to five-year lows after it unveiled more than a tripling in 2000 losses and took steps that could see the company put up for sale.

The select "club" that Scoot has joined is reserved for companies whose stock has lost all of its gains, or more, since the internet investment boom turned to bust. Scoot stock peaked at 351.5p just over a year ago and yesterday closed at 14p, down 6.25p on the day, but more than 95 per cent below the all-time high.

Commenting on whether Scoot, which appointed Merrill Lynch to advise it on strategic options, was in effect being put up for sale, a spokesman said: "That shouldn't be ruled out although nothing has been said to indicate that is the case. It is one of the strategic options that is being reviewed. Any business offered a huge premium over its existing share price clearly has to look at that."

Where that leaves Vivendi Universal, the giant French entertainment conglomerate and Scoot's biggest shareholder with a 22.4 per cent stake, was unclear.

Last year, Vivendi backed Scoot, which is headed by chief executive Robert Bonnier, with funds of £195m to roll-out the UK company's online directory business across Europe over three years. Vivendi received options to increase its shareholding in Scoot. The last of those options allows the French firm until October to buy 23 million additional shares at £2.50 per share. Vivendi's backing was instrumental in allowing Scoot to buy Loot, the free-ads paper, for £177.5m in cash and loan notes last July.

Yesterday Scoot said it had agreed to sell as many as 60 million shares, or 8.7 per cent of its capital, in a private placement to bolster finances.

It reported that losses before tax for the 15 months to December rose to £71.5m compared with losses of £21.1m in the year to September 1999. Gross revenue for the latest fiscal year rose 42 per cent to £27.2m. Scoot said it had changed its reporting period to harmonise results from all of its divisions.

The company's number of subscribers almost tripled to 55,658 in the December quarter from a year earlier. Scoot insisted that its UK unit is on track to be operating cash flow positive in the fourth quarter.

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