Saatchi shares set for battering

The loss of high-profile accounts will do serious damage. John Shepherd reports
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The Independent Online
Saatchi & Saatchi's shares, which once graced the ranks of the FT-SE 100 index, are set for a severe battering today after last night's loss of the lucrative and high-profile accounts of British Airways and Mirror Group newspapers.

Sellers were again out in force yesterday, taking the share price down by 4.5p to 107.5p - just 0.5p above the lowest point recorded in the past year. More than 2 million were traded, taking this week's total volume to almost 12 million.

The company's attempts to try to smooth things over with clients by putting a lid on the public rows were yesterday swept aside by David Herro, the US fund manager who led the call for Maurice Saatchi's removal as chairman.

Mr Herro said the former chairman was a "brilliant ad-man with no business sense". He said his campaign to remove him was launched because be felt "Maurice Saatchi was running around like a drunken sailor" buying everything he could, which would eventually havebrought the company to its knees.

Investment confidence has also been hit by a Stock Exchange insider dealing inquiry over the 5 million-plus shares that were traded on Monday afternoon in the four hours before Saatchi announced the resignation of three senior executives.

Jeremy Sinclair, the acting chairman and chief creative director who was one of the three who resigned on Monday, said yesterday that he had sold his entire holding of 45,000 shares at 108p on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Mr Sinclair said he was "extremely annoyed" about the time it took for Saatchi to announce his resignation, until which time he was unable to sell his shares.

The company also alleged that Maurice and Charles failed to comply with in-house rules and inform the company secretary of their decision each to sell 891,000 shares last week. The company saidit was not sure what action it could take.

One analyst said last night: "It just goes from bad to worse and is now looking very serious indeed for the company."

Four more senior executives resigned yesterday. They were Moray MacLennan, Nick Hurrell, Simon Dicketts and James Lowther. Saatchi put on a brave face. Wendy Smyth, finance director, said: "It's always very sad to lose employees. The four who left yesterday worked accounts such as Famous Grouse whisky, Gillette, British Telecom, Schweppes, and the National Lottery."

A spokeswoman for the National Lottery, which is said to be Saatchi's biggest pure UK client, said: "We have no current intention to review our position."

Saatchi is also facing an uphill struggle to retain Dixons, the second-biggest pure UK account, and Mars.