Punch vows to trump Whitbread's Allied deal

PUNCH TAVERNS, the pubs group led by Hugh Osmond, yesterday intervened to spoil Allied Domecq's pounds 2.42bn agreed sale of 3,500 pubs to Whitbread, claiming it was confident it could trump the offer.

The sale was announced by Allied Domecq yesterday after weeks of bitter wrangling with Whitbread over terms. As the deal was announced, Tony Hales, chief executive of Allied Domecq for eight years, announced he was leaving the group.

Punch attacked a decision by the two groups to retain exclusivity on the deal until completion, expected on 2 August. Information will not be made available to third parties, except for listing particulars to be published in the next two weeks.

Mr Osmond said: "Punch believes the business is worth in excess of the Whitbread offer. If other bidders are given access to the same information as Whitbread, we are confident that Allied shareholders will get a significantly better price."

Punch was yesterday rumoured to be linking up with Bass, Whitbread's arch-rival, to mount a counter-bid of up to pounds 3bn. Executives at Bass said they were continuing to watch the latest development with interest.

If shareholders approve the Whitbread deal at an egm on 2 July, it will create the UK's largest leisure company with over 10,000 retail outlets including pubs, hotels, active leisure and off-licences. Whitbread will gain control of the Firkin, Mr Q and Big Steak pub brands.

The announcement re-kindled speculation of a tie-up between Allied Domecq and the Canadian drinks group Seagram, allowing the combined group to compete with the world's biggest drinks company, Diageo. Allied is widely expected to dispose of its remaining retail outlets, including the Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins chains.

The Whitbread deal includes the sale of a 50 per cent stake in First Quench, the off-licence chain formed from the merger of Victoria Wine and Thresher's, already half-owned by Whitbread. Allied will also sell its 25 per cent interest in Britannia Soft, the holding company for Britvic.

Whitbread is offering to distribute 230 million newly-issued shares, or 0.22 new shares for each share held in Allied Domecq, giving Allied Domecq shareholders a 32 per cent stake in the new Whitbread group.

Whitbread will seek to de-merge its brewing division - expected to fetch pounds 300m - to meet regulations on tied public houses. Shares in Allied Domecq jumped 24p to 576.5p while shares in Whitbread closed 26p up at 1040p.

The City welcomed Whitbread's offer, which promises benefits of pounds 100m a year made up of pounds 60m in cost savings and pounds 40m in trading benefits. Executives declined to estimate the number of job losses and refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. Mr Hales, who will leave the group when the deal is completed, is in line for a pay-off of around pounds 1m.

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