Year Ends as It Began, with Morrison's Bid for Safeway ; REVIEW OF 2003 Upsets, Takeovers, Scandals and Rows over Corporate Governance

Article excerpt


THE STORY of the month and, indeed, for some, the year, was the much anticipated pounds 3bn takeover bid for Safeway. Its suitor, Wm Morrison, was perhaps less well anticipated, as was the bidding frenzy that ensued, with Asda, Tesco, J Sainsbury, the retail entrepreneur Philip Green and venture capitalists Kohlberg Kravis Roberts all vying for control of the country's number four food retailer.

Elsewhere, Dixons set the tone for what was to be a difficult year for retailers with a profit warning as it failed to prosper from Britons borrowing pounds 100bn in 2002, twice the amount of the year before. And Graham Wallace finally bowed to shareholder pressure and quit as boss of Cable & Wireless.

Overseas, Ted Turner quit as vice-chairman of AOL Time Warner as the company posted a $100bn (pounds 56m) full-year loss.


THE DUTCH retailer Ahold became the latest accounting culprit after admitting that US profits had been overstated for two years. In the UK, Abbey National became the first high street bank since 1992 to announce a loss and halved its dividend, while Reuters posted its first loss since floating 19 years earlier and announced 3,000 job losses.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the US private equity group, pulled out of the bidding frenzy for Safeway. The founder of PizzaExpress, Luke Johnson, kicked off a bidding battle with a pounds 263m offer for the chain. Oxford Glycosciences' attempts to merge with Cambridge Antibody Technologies were halted when Celltech launched an offer.

Prosecutors in Dusseldorf charged six people over pounds 70m of bonus payments to executives in the Vodafone-Mannesmann takeover.


THE FTSE 100 plunged to 3,287 points, its lowest level in eight years, on the eve of the US-led invasion of Iraq, only to rebound as soon as the first shots were fired. Derek Higgs stirred up controversy in Britain's boardrooms by recommending that chief executives be barred from going on to chair the same company, and decreed that one full-time FTSE 100 chairmanship was enough to keep anyone busy.

Six Continents survived a pounds 4bn hostile bid attempt from Hugh Osmond, the pub entrepreneur, and demerged its pubs arm, Mitchells & Butlers. Wm Morrison's dreams of buying Safeway suffered a setback after Patricia Hewitt, the Trade Secretary, referred it, along with Asda, Tesco and J Sainsbury, to the Competition Commission. France Telecom announced an EUR15bn (pounds 10bn) rights issue to help cut its pounds 46bn debt.


THE ADVERTISING group Cordiant Communications said it had received a takeover approach 24 hours after being sacked by one of its major clients, Allied Domecq. Corus, the struggling steel maker, revealed plans to shed 1,150 jobs in the UK and warned that 2,200 more were under threat. ABN Amro was fined pounds 900,000 by the Financial Services Authority for "market misconduct" and "serious compliance failures".

The European Commission slashed its 2003 growth forecast for the eurozone, warning that Germany faced another year of entrenched stagnation.

WorldCom changed its name to MCI in an attempt to put its notorious recent history behind it. Cable & Wireless named the Italian Francesco Caio as its new pounds 700,000-a-year chief executive.


THE BARCLAY brothers agreed to buy GUS's home shopping business for pounds 590m. The retail giant Kingfisher bowed to pressure and changed its incentive scheme for top executives. BT's former mobile arm, mmO2, declared a pounds 10bn loss - the second biggest in British history - and admitted that its UK third-generation licence was worth less than half the pounds 4bn the company had paid for it.

BHP Billiton agreed to pay its former chief executive Brian Gilbertson pounds 4m after only six months in the top job. Shareholders in GlaxoSmithKline voted against endorsing a pay package for Jean-Pierre Garnier that could have given him a pounds 22m payout if he lost his job. …