Rentokil steps up BET attack

MAGNUS GRIMOND

Rentokil yesterday stepped up the pressure in its pounds 1.8bn hostile takeover bid for BET by strongly criticising the textile to security group's growth record and questioning its strategy.

In a document sent to BET shareholders yesterday, Rentokil said the conglomerate's recent earnings growth had been driven by a cyclical upturn in its plant services business and acquisitions, masking an "unimpressive" performance from most of the rest of the group.

Underlying trading margins have sunk from 6.5 per cent to 6.2 per cent between the 1995 interim results and last year, Rentokil claims.

It says John Clark, BET's chief executive, had failed to deliver shareholder value, overseeing a 45 per cent underperformance in the share price against the rest of the market since his appointment in April 1991.

Clive Thompson, chief executive, also attacked BET's strategy changes. "Strategies are things which are supposed to last for years and years. Ours has been in place for 14 years now, theirs seems to change with the seasons."

Other areas of criticism included BET's plan to make the group debt-free by 1994, which Rentokil said had only been achieved through asset sales, a cut in capital expenditure and a call on shareholders. Since March 1994, cash flow had been negative and Rentokil suggested that a further rights issue might be necessary to finance BET's plans to make larger strategic acquisitions.

But Mr Clark hit back last night, calling the Rentokil document "short on strategy, long on soundbites and irrelevant historical comparisons".

Rentokil's shares dipped 5.5p to 343.5p yesterday, but the value of its share-and-cash bid of 194.6p remained marginally above BET's market price, which eased 0.5p to 194.5p.

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