PRESS DIGEST - British business press - March 18

Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:14am EDT

The Sunday Times

SHAKE-UP AT VIMTO

Nichols (NICL.L), the maker of Vimto, Sunkist and Panda soft-drinks, is believed to be considering a range of options to address the long-term future of the business. The company has in the past few years sold its food and hot-drink divisions and disposed of surplus freehold property assets. News of the review is believed to have elicited interest from private equity groups that were circling the business.

MACARTHUR FIRM TESTS THE WATER

Musto, the outdoor-clothing company founded by Keith Musto in 1971, has appointed NM Rothschild to carry out a strategic review of the business. The company, tipped to produce profits of 4.5 million pounds on turnover of 28 million pounds in the year to December 2007, expects profits to grow to about 9 million pounds on turnover of 50 million pounds by 2012. The company, which supplies sailing gear to Ellen MacArthur and sponsors her, also supplies clothing to other leading sailors, including Mike Golding, Grant Dalton and Yves Parlier.

BARCLAYS IN 80 BILLION POUND OFFER TO ABN AMRO

Barclays (BARC.L) has made an informal merger approach to ABN Amro AAH.AS to create a global banking powerhouse worth 80 billion pounds. Barclays made the approach as a white knight to save ABN Amro after it became embroiled in a bitter battle last month with the activist hedge fund, The Children's Investment Fund, which has a 1 percent stake in the Dutch bank. TCI has tabled a five-point plan that included proposals for ABN to consider selling or demerging some of its assets and returning cash to shareholders as well as a ban on acquisitions.

The Sunday Telegraph

HUTCHINGS BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Lupus LUP.L could announce a 250 million pound deal to buy Laird Group's LARD.L security services division as early as tomorrow morning alongside Laird's results. Lupus suspended its shares last Wednesday in anticipation of an imminent announcement.

URENCO PROFITS SOAR AS URANIUM GOES NUCLEAR

Urenco, the nuclear fuel company jointly owned by the UK, Dutch and French governments, is expected to report record profits this week on the back of soaring uranium prices. The company, which has 20 percent of the world market for enriched uranium, sells its nuclear fuel to power stations in most parts of the world except Russia. It is usually able to build enrichment capacity much faster than its customers can build reactors.

HILTON SCORES HAT TRICK WITH CHEAPER HOTEL BRANDS FOR UK

The Hilton Group is introducing three lower-budget hotel brands -- Double-Tree, Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn -- in a move designed to rescue the once prestigious brand from permanently losing its cachet. The group, which believes it has suffered from a lack of choice of brands when choosing new sites to accommodate growth of the business, feels that the new plan will raise the perception of the Hilton brand by British consumers. The planned three new brands, which are well established in the United States, will also make their debuts in four other European markets besides the UK as well as five Asian markets.

The Observer

DAYLESFORD SET FOR PLANET ORGANIC TIE-UP

Daylesford Organic is planning a tie-up with the organic supermarket chain Planet Organic. The farm shop business founded by Lady Carole Bamford, wife of Sir Anthony, has just opened a flagship store in London's Pimlico Road, which will be closely followed with the opening of a department in Planet Organic's Westbourne Grove store, in London's trendy Notting Hill. Planet Organic has three stores in London but harbours ambitions of expanding into the provinces.

TYCOON PLANS TO CONQUER MOUNTAIN WAREHOUSE

Mike Ashley, the billionaire sports wear tycoon, who recently floated his Sports Direct International (SPD.L) empire, is among the suitors circling Mountain Warehouse, the discount outdoor retailer put up for sale by its private equity backer earlier this year. Sports Direct is one of Mountain Warehouse's biggest suppliers. It is believed that Sports Direct could reverse its Hargreaves Sports chain into Mountain Warehouse.

RESULT: MKONE FORCED TO DROP BURMA CLOTHING

The high street discount fashion store MkOne has withdrawn a range of clothes after being told they were made in Myanmar (Burma), which is ruled by a military dictatorship. The store, which is owned by Baugur, the Icelandic corporate raider, has in the past refused to disclose its sourcing policy but its new management is more sensitive to these issues. More than 130 major clothing retailers, including Asda (WMT.N) and Next (NXT.L), have policies not to source from Myanmar.

The Independent on Sunday

PATENT BATTLES COULD SAVAGE DRUGS GIANT

It has been estimated that nearly a quarter of the turnover of the drugs giant AstraZeneca (AZN.L) could be wiped out contesting the patents on the company's key drugs. Like other drug companies, AstraZeneca relies on patents that give it the exclusive right to make and sell the drugs it invents, often for 10 to 15 years. However, generic drug companies are increasingly challenging the validity of the patents before they expire, leading to a record number of patent lawsuits.

STANDARD LIFE BOUNCES BACK

Standard Life (SL.L) will next week present its first annual results since its demutualisation. Merrill Lynch expects the life and pensions group to report 513 million pounds in pre-tax operating profit and a positive outlook for new business driven by an inflow of British pension and life products. The results will be the final set of results for the company's chairman, Sir Brian Stewart, who steps down in May.

RIVALS UNITE TO OUST BSKYB FROM FREEVIEW

The BBC, ITV (ITV.L) and Channel 4 are expected to tell the media regulator Ofcom that Sky BSY.L should give up its shareholding in Freeview, the free-to-watch digital TV service, if it is allowed to replace its free channels on digital platform with pay-to-view channels. Sky wants to remove Sky News, Sky Sports News and Sky 3 from Freeview and replace them with four pay-to-view alternatives. Ofcom has the power to refuse Sky permission to alter its Freeview licence. Ofcom is also examining, along with the Office of Fair Trading, whether Sky should be permitted to keep the 17.9 percent stake it acquired in ITV.

The Financial Mail on Sunday

RAT POISONER SOREX IS FOR SALE

Sorex International, one of the world's largest producers of rat poisons with operations in 45 countries, has been put up for sale with a price tag of about 100 million pounds. The company, which was founded in 1948, is expected to attract interest from private equity firms and trade buyers from the UK and the US.

MOTHERCARE POISED FOR 150 MILLION POUND TOY SHOP BID

Mothercare (MTC.L) is mulling a bid for Early Learning Centre, the fast-expanding infant and toddler toy store put up for sale by its owners. ELC, which is famous for educational toys favoured by the middle class, made a profit of 13 million pounds last year. A takeover of ELC, would bring together the UK's two best-known names in children's products.

BALFOUR SET TO BID FOR AIRPORT STAKE

The engineering firm Balfour Beatty BBY.L is among the potential bidders for a 24 percent stake in Birmingham International, Britain's fifth biggest airport. Any buyer for the Macquarie MBL.AX stake, which was bought for 84 million pounds in 2001 and is now valued at about 130 million pounds, will also likely buy the 24 percent stake held by Dublin Airport Authority. The seven West Midland councils, which own about 49 percent of Birmingham International, are not included in the list of bidders but they reserve the right to match any offer.

Prepared for Reuters by Durrants.