Sparks fly as Marks' biggest shareholder sells off more stock

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer's biggest shareholder has a sold a stake in the retailer worth $66.5m (£36.1m), it emerged yesterday, as the wrangling between M&S and Revival Acquisitions, Philip Green's bid vehicle, rumbled on.

Marks & Spencer's biggest shareholder has a sold a stake in the retailer worth $66.5m (£36.1m), it emerged yesterday, as the wrangling between M&S and Revival Acquisitions, Philip Green's bid vehicle, rumbled on.

Brandes Investment Partners, the US fund management group, has continued to chip away at its holding in M&S over the past few weeks, yesterday announcing to the Stock Exchange that it had sold 10 million of the company's US-listed shares at $6.65 a share. The share deal took Brandes' holding in M&S from 12.4 per cent to 11.96 per cent. It also sold a line of 8,926 American depository receipts in M&S raising a further $353,000. M&S shares finished the day down 0.2 per cent at 356p-a-share.

But while the company's share price had a relatively muted day, sparks continued to fly between the rival M&S camps. Mr Green again attacked the M&S board - for rejecting his latest £8.4bn offer within an hour and half of receiving it on Wednesday afternoon. The board also failed to pose a single question about the offer to either Mr Green or his advisers, he said.

Mr Green's criticism of the M&S board, led by the acting chairman Paul Myners and Stuart Rose, the new chief executive, came as an ICM survey in Retail Week yesterday found that two-thirds of M&S shoppers thought the clothing retailer should not be sold to Mr Green, who owns Bhs and Arcadia, the Dorothy Perkins-to-Top Shop group. Mr Green said: "Lets have another poll and ask people whether they would rather shop at M&S or Top Shop. I think the outcome would be totally different."

An M&S spokesman returned the taunt: "The reason why people want Stuart Rose to run M&S is because they have been in a Bhs recently."

Mr Green believes the M&S board has failed to demonstrate to shareholders why, as they claim, M&S is undervalued at his latest 370p-a-share bid, and why, if they think it isundervalued at 370p, they made no such claim when shares were trading at 280p - before he appeared with his takeover bid. One answer given by advisers to the board is that any offer from Mr Green must by definition undervalue a business, given his reputation for buying businesses cheaply and turning them around.

However, Mr Green's advisers claim the companies he buysare not cheap at the time he buys them but only look cheap subsequently, after he has improved their trading performance.

The M&S board claims its new management team and advisers have carried out a large amount of work on the true value of M&S in preparation for a second bid from Mr Green. The board believes Mr Green's most recent offer did not warrant further examination beyond the 90-minute analysis it received. They also claim M&S shares were recently trading as low as 280p because of a discount caused by the presence of the old management team of Luc Vandevelde and Roger Holmes, both ousted at the end of last month.

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