BRIERLEY Investments, owned by Sir Ron Brierley, yesterday admitted it faced an uphill task as it launched a hostile pounds 11m, 200p-per- share takeover bid for Gibbs Mew, the small brewer and pub operator based in Wiltshire.
Nearly 60 per cent of the target's shares are owned by the Gibbs family and other directors. Sir Ron, the New Zealand businessman, has been building up his stake recently, culminating in a bid threat four weeks ago when his holding had reached 19.7 per cent.
Brierley, founded in 1961 and one of New Zealand's largest companies, holds a large portfolio of listed investments. In the year to June it made NZdollars 225m ( pounds 63m), and had shareholders' funds of NZdollars 3.2bn ( pounds 900m).
Directors of Gibbs, which owns a small brewery in Salisbury and more than 120 pubs, unanimously rejected the bid. They said the offer 'significantly undervalued the company's assets and prospects'. The company, chaired by Peter Gibbs, declined to comment further until the formal offer document had been released.
Stephen Bellamy, of Brierley Investments, said: 'We have tried to come to some sort of friendly agreement to find a way forward for the company, but the family has rebutted our approaches. Their response was, 'Go away, we are not interested'.
'They have admitted to us they are not the best managers around. Our attitude is we are a big shareholder and, in the right hands, the company could have a better future.'
Gibbs's shares, which fell continually over the last four years until Sir Ron's buying spree this summer, yesterday rose 15p to 198p. Profits have fallen 66 per cent from the 1989/90 peak of pounds 1.88m to pounds 633,000 in the year to last March.
However, when Gibbs unveiled its latest figures it hinted that the three years of decline could be arrested in 1992/93. A sales push into the free-trade has helped to alleviate difficulties within the company's tied pub estate.
Mr Bellamy claimed that Brierley could manage Gibbs more professionally. 'They don't have the financial resources to develop. And we believe Gibbs has repeatedly failed to deliver on its opportunities.'
However, he admitted he did not have individual trading details about Gibbs' businesses, and that it might prove difficult to persuade the family to part with shares. 'Families historically stick together, although we have some reason to believe the family holding is not as secure as Peter Gibbs thinks it is.'
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