Wolves toasts victory in pounds 300m Marston battle

WOLVERHAMPTON & Dudley yesterday won the battle of the brewers, taking control of Marston Thompson & Evershed with a pounds 300m bid that could net its competitor's top managers a pounds 2m-plus payoff.

The acquisition will create Britain's largest regional brewer, with three breweries, almost 1,500 pubs - mainly in the North - and sales of around pounds 500m. The combined group will have a strong portfolio of beer brands centred on Marston's Pedigree bitter and W&D's Banks's ale.

W&D clinched the deal yesterday afternoon when its improved cash-and- paper offer of around 310p a share was accepted by almost three-quarters of Marston investors, many of whom also own shares in W&D. The result came after a bitter two-month bid war which saw Marston make a pounds 330m counteroffer for W&D.

W&D was supported by Greene King, another regional brewer, which agreed to buy 170 pubs in the South from the combined group for pounds 80m. Shares in Marston, owner of the Pitcher & Piano pub chain, rose 21.5p to 306.5p, while W&D closed 11.5p higher at 469p.

The sale of Marston is set to trigger the departure of its top management. The chairman, Michael Hurdle, is expected to leave after 35 years with the company with a total payoff, including share options, of around pounds 2m. Chief executive Nick Letchet, appointed from Bass 18 months ago, should net pounds 300,000.

David Thompson, W&D's managing director, said the victory was an "overwhelming endorsement of our strategy". He said the company would invest in its local pubs - which make up the bulk of its estate - in an attempt to combat tough trading conditions.

Mr Thompson said the link would create savings of around pounds 17m. However, W&D will have to pay over pounds 30m in fees to both parties' advisers and for Marston's failed attempt to securitise some of its pubs.

There will be around 250 job losses among the 15,000 combined workforce. Marston's headquarters in Burton-on-Trent will be closed, although the town's brewery will remain open alongside W&D's Hartlepool and Wolverhampton plants.

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