Tiphook loses City adviser: Merchant bank resigns after container group consults rivals on strategic moves

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The Independent Online
TIPHOOK, the container and trailer rental group, has suffered a further blow to its City credibility with the resignation of its main adviser.

Lazard Brothers, which has advised the company for nearly six years, formally resigned as its merchant bank a few weeks ago but did not make its decision public. City sources suggest that the bank's decision resulted from disillusionment with the way the company has not always sought its advice on strategic moves.

It is believed the recent change in its accounting policies - which last week precipitated a large fall in its share price - was discussed with the stockbroker UBS but not with its merchant bank, as would have been more normal. News of Lazards' resignation will only add to the uncertainty about the company in the City, where the patience of UK shareholders has been strained by unexplained falls in the share price ahead of two recent company announcements - a profits warning in April and last week's notification of accountancy changes.

The latter resulted in a charge of pounds 77.3m, transforming profits of pounds 55.5m for the year into losses of pounds 21.8m.

Shareholders have recently expressed concern about the apparent reluctance of Robert Montague, chairman and chief executive, to listen to the views of the City.

A Tiphook spokeswoman said that in the past few months the company had moved more towards using Morgan Grenfell, because Lazards had had a conflict of interest on a number of recent occasions. She added that the company still maintained a friendly relationship with Lazards.

The company is also believed to have taken guidance from Hambro Magan, the small merchant banking boutique. Rupert Hambro, chairman of Hambro Magan, is one of Tiphook's non-executive directors.

Tiphook has had a series of financial advisers since coming to the market in 1985. Barclays Merchant Bank advised the company then, when an error in the flotation prospectus overstated net assets per share by nearly 50 per cent. The mistrust this caused meant that 85 per cent of the issue was left with the underwriters.

Later that year, NM Rothschild replaced Barclays as Tiphook's merchant bank and Kitcat & Aitken was appointed as joint broker with L Messel.

Lazards replaced NM Rothschild in 1987 but temporarily made way for Morgan Grenfell during the joint Tiphook-Stena bid for Sea Containers, which was being advised by Lazard Freres in New York.

Last year, the company changed its brokers from Warburg Securities and County to UBS as it became troubled about its share price.

The proportion of UK shareholders has declined from 60 per cent to 30 per cent as the group's share price - which closed on Friday at 251p, down 37p on the week - has halved within the past two years.

Earlier this week, the company's shares fell after it announced the changed accounting policy and said borrowings had risen from pounds 858m to over pounds 1bn.

The group recently agreed more relaxed covenants on interest cover with its bankers.

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