Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Arla Interest Puts New Life in Express Dairies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Arla Interest Puts New Life in Express Dairies

Article excerpt

Byline: JIM ARMITAGE

EXPRESS Dairies' army of milkmen had something fresh to ponder on their rounds today. Will they be employed a year from now by Scandinavian giant Arla Foods, Robert Wiseman Dairies or their current bosses?

News, confirmed today, of Lurpak buttermaker Arla's interest in a bid thought to be 35p a share sent Express leaping from its recent 131/2p trough.

The shares, up 91/2p to 24p, have not been at 35p since last July, debt-laden Express having suffered from supermarket price-cutting, foot-and-mouth and aggressive new capacity coming onstream from Wiseman.

Wiseman, whose shares, steady at 114p, have been more resilient through these troubled times, will not like having such a powerhouse on its doorstep and is likely to get on the phone to Express chairman Lord Haskins sharpish with its own offer. But what will the regulators think of either combination?

Public concern about Britain's food prices compared with those in the rest of Europe is bound to influence the Department of Trade and Industry's decision.

Meanwhile, all this gossip could stir up new interest among venture capitalists for Uniq, the old Unigate business. Private equity groups pored over the books last year. The shares today edged up 1/2p to 160p.

It could be a case of "next stop 5300" on the FTSE 100. A positive start to the week took it 26 points higher to 5219 after a steady Wall Street open pushed the Dow 37.01 points ahead to 9877.09. Banks, led by all-time highs from Royal Bank of Scotland, up 51p at 1835p, gained ahead of the sector's financial reporting season, which kicks off on Wednesday with finals from Northern Rock, up 2p at 6881/2p. Central bankers in the US and Europe are expected to keep interest rates on hold this week, underpinning stocks in the sector.

A BP upgrade from Goldman Sachs helped the biggest Footsie constituent up 8p to 547p while Shell was 51/2p better at 4833/4p. …

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