Shareholders give Signet management a rough ride

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DISGRUNTLED holders of preference shares in Signet Group, formerly Ratners, yesterday pressed for a restructuring of the company's finances in the face of mounting dividend arrears, writes Terence Wilkinson.

One small shareholder at the company's annual meeting asked James McAdam, chairman and chief executive, to waive part of his 'colossal' salary of pounds 512,000, up from pounds 288,000.

Bob Smith, a former distribution director at Signet's Colindale warehouse in London, charged that the board had failed to report alleged stock losses of pounds 500,000 last year to the police. The company denied the allegations.

Julian Treger, an adviser to the UK Active Value Fund, which holds 23 per cent of Signet's dollar-denominated preference shares, said that dividend arrears to preference shareholders would have risen from pounds 64m to pounds 100m by the end of the this financial year compared with Signet's jewellery profits of pounds 6.8m last year.

'While this situation persists the group has no realistic possibility of access to the capital markets to support the growth of the business and this makes it increasingly unlikely that ordinary shareholders will see dividends or real value for a very long time.'

Mr McAdam, pressed by Mr Treger for news of a capital reconstruction, said it would be premature and not appropriate to the interests of all shareholders to propose anything at the moment.

A representative of holders with about 60 per cent of Signet's variable-term preference shares told the meeting that they may call for an extraordinary meeting, asking, among other things, for a Nasdaq listing for their shares.