January 28, 2019 / 8:47 AM / in 3 months

Stock Spirits' top investor seeks to oust chairman

(Reuters) - Stock Spirits’ top shareholder on Monday called for the removal of the vodka maker’s chairman and raised questions about its growth prospects, more than two years after the investor won a battle to oust the company’s then chief executive officer.

Western Gate Private Investments Ltd, which owns a 10 percent stake in the maker of 1906, Stock Prestige and Vodka No.1, said the company continued to suffer from “the board’s lack of clear growth strategy” as well as declines in market share in Italy and Czech Republic and a slow recovery in Poland.

Stock Spirits, however, said it had grown its market share for 20 consecutive months in Poland, which along with Czech Republic accounts for about three quarters of its total revenue.

Western Gate, which represents the private family office of Portuguese businessman Luis Amaral, wants Stock Spirits’ Chairman David Maloney and Senior Independent Director John Nicolson removed from the board, after it said several of its key concerns went “un-addressed” following a meeting with the chairman.

“In light of Stock Spirits’ cash generation and unconvincing growth strategy, Western Gate calls upon the board to increase the dividend and/or introduce a special dividend,” the investor said in a statement.

The investor called on shareholders not to support the re-election of Maloney and Nicolson at the company’s general meeting on Feb. 14.

(Graphic: Stock Spirits faces second shareholder revolt over growth fears link: tmsnrt.rs/2HNJ92P).

“This is due to the absence of a clear growth strategy and failure to complete any acquisitions last year. Amaral had expressed his dissatisfaction with the company’s management several times in the past,” J&T Banka said in a note.

M&G, Stock Spirits’ second-largest shareholder, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Stock Spirits, established in 2008 after the merger of Eckes & Stock and Polmos Lublin, stood by its management.

“We have made it clear that M&A is an integral part of our growth strategy, and we continue to assess a range of opportunities in order to enhance shareholder value,” a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Stock Spirits had a 17.1 percent share of Poland’s vodka market in 2017, second behind Russian Standard Corp, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

The FTSE Small cap firm’s shares have risen just 3 percent since the firm’s London market debut in October 2013. At Monday’s stock high of 219.5 pence, the company was valued at 439 million pounds

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and additional reporting by Karina Dsouza; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Mark Potter

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