Rumours of £2bn S&N disposal a 'non-issue'

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The chairman of Scottish & Newcastle Retail (S&N) has strongly denied the suggestion that the company's entire 1,500-strong pub estate will...

The chairman of Scottish & Newcastle Retail (S&N) has strongly denied the suggestion that the company's entire 1,500-strong pub estate will be sold.

Speculation had intensified following the brewer's recent £1.2bn acquisition of Finnish rival Hartwall.

City analysts have long said the company needs to focus on becoming a truly global player in the brewing sector.

The Hartwall deal represented S&N's first foray into Russia, Europe's second largest beer market.

As well as a 45 per cent share of the Finnish market, the deal included a 50 per cent stake in BBH, a joint venture with Carlsberg in Russia.

BBH brews Baltika, the biggest selling beer in Russia.

S&N issued 209 million shares to finance 60 per cent of the deal. The remainder pushed S&N's debt up to £3bn. It is thought the board will come under renewed pressure to sell the pub operations.

Some commentators had speculated that the pubs would be sold within a year. It is thought that S&N, which brews Kronenbourg and Foster's, could raise £2bn from a sale.

But in an interview with thePublican.com, Bob Ivell, chairman of S&N Retail and a member of the main board, swiftly quashed the rumours.

"This is a non-issue - it will never happen," he said.

"You can never please the City. If we were to sell all of our pubs it would probably turn round and say we're over-exposed to brewing."

Several companies within the sector have come in for criticism because of "unfocused" operations.

Many analysts believe that Six Continents, the hotel and pub operator, should focus on running hotels.

Mr Ivell said that as long as shareholders were happy, he didn't care what the City thought.

"At the end of the day the results speak for themselves. As long as investors are happy, that is all that matters," he said. "It's a shame because our retail people are doing a great job. For me, it's water off a duck's back - although it's not always good for the morale of staff. But you always have to live with speculation."

Related stories:

S&N in raid for £1.2bn Finnish brewer (14 February 2002)

What comes next for S&N after its acquisition of a big stake of the Finnish and Russian beer markets? We meet Bob Ivell who tells all.

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