LORD WOLFSON, the GUS chairman with more witty one-liners than the late Dorothy Parker, seems to have done just enough to win the hand of Argos. Certainly that was the verdict yesterday of the stock market, where the Argos share price slipped below the bid price for the first time since hostilities began.
But though GUS now looks a few rounds ahead in the fight, let's not write Argos off just yet. Stuart Rose, the new chief executive, has constructed a creditable defence with pledges to improve margins, return pounds 431m to shareholders and link up with Littlewoods in a home shopping venture.
His main advantage, however, is that institutions are awash with cash just now after a wave of share buy-backs and special dividends, and there's precious little reasonably valued equity around to mop it up. The Wolfson loot looks appetising, but it also throws up a daunting reinvestment problem. By contrast, the Argos defence offers 150p a share now and an ongoing stake in a potential recovery stock. Mr Rose is still a bit of an unknown quantity, but many institutions will be sorely tempted to take the risk.
If Argos shares stay above 500p after the bid fails, then, with the 150p in hand, shareholders are immediately in the money. It's a long shot, but Mr Rose may have to work for his half a mil signing-on fee after all.
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