Securicor warning of Cellnet hit

Doubts about the trading performance of Cellnet, the UK's second-largest mobile phone company, intensified yesterday after its 40 per cent shareholder, Securicor, issued a profits warning.

Roger Wiggs, Securicor chief executive, told shareholders at the annual general meeting that profits for the six months to the end of March would be hit by a mixture of trading losses and exceptional charges totalling pounds 27m. Of these, pounds 21m stem from Securicor Cellular Services, a subsidiary which acts as a wholesaler for Cellnet mobile phones. Securicor shares fell 21p to 294.5p.

The warning came less than three weeks after the abrupt resignation of Howard Ford as Cellnet's managing director, though Securicor yesterday refused to elaborate on reasons for the departure. British Telecom owns the other 60 per cent of Cellnet. Chris Shirtcliffe, Securicor's finance director, said: "It wasn't in any way a form of retribution. We have confidentiality agreements with Cellnet's majority shareholder, BT, and you will have to talk to them."

Securicor said the cellular subsidiary, which has 400,000 subscribers, was likely to lose pounds 3m in the first half of this year. Mr Shirtcliffe warned similar losses could continue into 1998. Securicor will also write- down pounds 18m off the value of mobile contracts in its accounts because people are leaving the Cellnet network at a faster rate. The remaining pounds 6m of the profits warning related to start-up costs at Securicor's US radio joint venture, which it warned would not break even until 1999/2000.

Mr Shirtcliffe defended Cellnet's record last night. "Cellnet is still very well placed indeed. It's the overall market and not just Cellnet which has changed so rapidly."

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