Whitbread clears last big hurdle

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The Independent Online
WHITBREAD, one the 'big four' brewers, has cleared its last big hurdle in complying with the Government's Beer Orders, which become law in November, by reducing shareholdings in three companies to below 15 per cent.

The placings involved some of the shares held in Marston, Thompson & Evershed, a regional brewer, and Boddington and Devenish, two pub operators, by Whitbread Investment Co, 49.9 per cent owned by Whitbread.

The 15 per cent rule in Whitbread's case is calculated by adding the whole of the brewer's share investments with half of corresponding stakes held by WIC.

To comply WIC has sold a 6.6 per cent stake in Boddington, a 18.9 per cent holding in Marston, and a 3.3 per cent interest in Devenish, mainly to institutions.

All three were happy with yesterday's events. David Gordon, managing director of Marston, known for its Pedigree bitter, said: 'The placing was a bit of a surprise, but I think it is good for us. The placing widens the share base, and makes the shares more liquid.' It also helped to ease some of the tension caused by the possibility the WIC could have sold its entire holding to a potential bidder.

The disposals were conducted quickly and were received well by the stock market. Boddington closed unchanged at 174p, Marston eased 3p to 210p, and Devenish gained 1p to 240p.

The sales were handled by James Capel, the broking house, and raised pounds 45m of which around pounds 30m was ploughed into shares in other, but yet to be disclosed, drinks companies.

WIC now owns 12.4 per cent of Boddington, 12.45 per cent of Marston, and 11.06 per cent of Devenish.

Part of WIC's share holdings were sold directly to Whitbread, lifting the brewer's direct holding in Boddington from 5.1 to 8.8 per cent, in Marston from 5.9 to 8.8 per cent. It also bought 3.3 per cent of Devenish.