Two bidders tipped for brewer that didn't float

TWO possible bidders - Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries and the Sunderland-based Vaux Group - are being tipped for Century Inns, the brewing group that pulled its stock market flotation last week after the Office of Fair Trading announced an inquiry into the wholesale beer trade.

Alistair Arkley, Century Inn's chief executive, said that the company had been approached by a number of interested parties in the last six months or so. "But at the time, we indicated that it was our intention to look at floating the company.''

Mr Arkley is meeting his City advisers, Smith New Court, in the next few days for a post-mortem on the decision to pull the flotation and to consider how soon the company might be able to attempt the exercise again. "We will be looking at entering into an agreement with our advisers, and we want to see if we can come back to the market as soon as the inquiry is over. That's my thinking at the moment," Mr Arkley said.

The decision to pull the flotation came a day before "impact day" when Century Inns, which owns the freeholds of 315 pubs from the Scottish borders to north Lincolnshire, was scheduled to announce the pricing of its shares.

The OFT's inquiry, which will look at the prices charged to tenants by the large brewing companies, will take three months, during which time the beer industry is bound to face uncertain times. It is widely expected that although the inquiry will centre on the larger brewers, some of the regional brewers, such as Century, will be drawn in as well.

Eric Walters, at Schroder Ventures, Century Inns' majority shareholder, expects other companies to take a renewed interest in time, though he doubts whether anybody will make a move until the outcome of the OFT inquiry.

In the meantime, Mr Arkley praised the work done by his advisers, Smith New Court and NM Rothschild, the same team that last year advised on the disastrous flotation of Aerostructures Hamble.

"I did consider whether we would be harmed by that incident," said Mr Arkley, "but I have confidence in these people. We were taken around an enormous number of institutions, and some of the largest."