With Carlsberg Tetley in the barrel, Bass would not be small beer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bass and British Airways could lead the stock market action this week. The brewing giant, if popular rumour is translated into reality, will accompany its interim figures on Wednesday with details of its long suspected bid for Carlsberg Tetley, the third largest brewer in the land. BA, with annual figures today, could indicate it is on the verge of forging the world's biggest aviation alliance.

The Bass results are expected to be solid rather than exciting with a pre-tax figure around pounds 280m against pounds 260m. The beer giant has traded quite well with its breweries making headway and its hotels enjoying the upturn in the market. It has also successfully introduced two new products. Caffreys is, by general consent, the most successful beer launch for years and Hoopers Hooch is at the forefront of the alcoholic soft drinks revolution. Yet it is corporate action the stock market wants to hear about.

Bass has for long been a front runner in the rumoured chase for Ladbroke, the betting and hotel group. But brewing expansion could be its priority.

There is little doubt it would love to reclaim its top position in the brewing industry. It was dislodged last year when, to the surprise of many, Scottish & Newcastle was allowed to capture Courage.

The takeover lifted Scottish's share of the UK beer market to 30 per cent. Before around 25 per cent had been the accepted limit.

But the regulatory climate has changed since the Scottish swoop. Last year Whitehall seemed to think big was beautiful and there was merit in mergers creating large groups that could command a powerful presence on the world stage.

Nowadays,domestic competition, judging from recent decisions and comments, is the name of the game.

With CT in its corporate barrel Bass would account for approaching 40 per cent of the beer market; too big a share for Whitehall to swallow.

To get the deal past monopoly influences Bass will have to reduce its exposure - perhaps moving to Scottish's 30 per cent level. It will, therefore, be forced to sell (or close) breweries as well as disgorging some of its brands.

All the signs are that it has, after long, tortuous negotiations, hammered out a deal with CT owners, Allied Domecq and Carlsberg, the Danish brewer.

Allied wants to take the money and retire from the beerage; Carlsberg is keen to retain a brewing presence in its most important overseas market.

The solution could result in Bass forming a new brewing company, incorporating its own operations and those of CT. Carlsberg could exchange its CT interest for a minority shareholding in the combined enterprise.

BA has been the subject of continuing speculation about its relationship with American Airlines. Talk persists the world's favourite airline could be planning a share swap with AA, the biggest world carrier.

Negotiations have dragged on for more than a year. Initially they involved a possible trading pact. Now there is talk of asset pooling and a minority cross shareholding of, say, 20 per cent.

For BA the link would have big advantages, helping its US drive and increasing its thrust into South America. But it will complicate its relationship with USAir where it has nearly 25 per cent.

It should produce a high flying profit advance - say 26 per cent to pounds 582m. If the AA deal has been concluded BA would probably need a rights issue.

Any cash call could be accompanied by some heady projections. Most observers believe airlines are entering the stage when a shortage of capacity allows them to widen margins by lifting prices.

Although there is a clutch of FT-SE constituents reporting this week it is a presentation from one of the so-called bio babes which could have the most telling impact on the market.

British Biotech, which has soared from 426p in July to top pounds 30 - it closed at 2,845p on Friday - is due to release details of its proposed cancer drug, Marimastat, at a US conference tomorrow.

If the drug fails to live up to the heady expectations flying around then the bio babes could be quickly dumped on to their sick beds. There is so much blue sky in the sector there is no room for disappointment.

Last week the bio babes turned in a mixed performance. British Biotech, however, displayed remarkable resilience considering the huge profits waiting to be taken, slipping just 110p.

It was an uneventful week; Footsie gave a little ground and the supporting index drifted lower. This week is likely to be just as indecisive.

Marks & Spencer, with final figures tomorrow, is unlikely to create much excitement. By its own exacting standards it had a disappointing year and profits are likely to emerge around pounds 980m against pounds 927.9m. On the home front, poor clothing sales have taken their toll and food sales have not grown as much as hoped.

Cable & Wireless figures on Thursday may come as an anti-climax after the boardroom upheaval, the on-off-on and then off again merger talks with BT and the appointment of a new supremo, Richard Brown, who assumes his new duties on 1 July. The results could be encouraging.

NatWest Securities is looking for pounds 1,230m against pounds 1,144m.

Land Securities, on Wednesday, could announce a slight fall in NAV and profits down 3 per cent to pounds 233m.

For the first time the name Glenmorangie will feature in a profit announcement. The famous Scotch whisky group has just changed its name from Macdonald Martin to reflect its leading brand and could be in a celebratory mood on Thursday with profits coming out at pounds 6.6m against pounds 5.7m.

It is one of the dwindling band with two classes of share - high and low powered. There are hopes it will democratise its voting structure with Geoffrey Mandrell, a leading light at ProShare, the shareholder pressure group, the company's chairman. Perhaps the new name will be followed by a votes for all share structure.