Late last year Whitbread celebrated its 275th anniversary at its brewery site on Chiswell Street in the City.
It was a nostalgic occasion featuring several generations of the Whitbread family and honouring long-standing workers for the company.
Even as the event was taking place, winds of change were blowing with activist investor Sachem Head, more recently joined by corporate vultures Elliott, building up its stake.
Target: Activist investor Sachem Head and corporate vultures Elliott have built up sizeable stakes in Costa owner Whitbread
The initial ambitions of Sachem Head were limited. It wanted Whitbread to use the balance sheet more efficiently by taking on more debt.
Subsequently it has become clear that the boarders wanted a break-up of the Costa-to-Premier-Inn hospitality giant.
In one respect, the predators are right. Under the current structure, Costa looks to be undervalued, priced at a fraction of what was achieved when Bart Becht’s JAB bought coffee emporium Peet’s in the US.
The siege of Whitbread is a reminder of what happened to Cadbury Schweppes when it was targeted by corporate raider Ronald Perelman.
His first goal was to release value from Schweppes by splitting it out of Cadbury and floating it in New York.
Unencumbered by its soft drinks arm, Cadbury became a sitting duck. Along came Kraft in 2010 and one of Britain’s most emblematic food companies was lost in a bitterly fought takeover.
There may be good short-term reasons for spinning Costa out of Whitbread so it can more intently focus on its expansion in China and move upscale in its home British market.
But as was the case with Schweppes, selling the beverage arm could expose the rest of Whitbread – the Premier Inn chain – to takeover ambitions.
This at the moment when it is having some success, under chief executive Alison Brittain, in breaking into the notoriously undeveloped German hospitality market. Heritage is not a defensive strategy.
But preserving Whitbread for its unrealised global ambitions makes more sense.
Coming up trumps
The World Bank often feels like the poor relation at the twice-yearly gatherings of top financiers at the International Monetary Fund.
So it was good to see a sharing of the limelight at this year’s spring meetings.
The big breakthrough came on Saturday at the Development Committee, attended by ministers including the UK’s Penny Mordaunt, who voted to pile $15billion of new capital into the Bank, lifting its annual lending capacity.
In the past the big hold-up on capital increases has been in the US Congress. The surprise is that Donald Trump, who spends a great deal of time tweeting against multilateral institutions, chose to support this one.
A capital increase can only go ahead with American votes, as it is the World Bank’s biggest shareholder.
What persuaded Trump and his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to support more money was a promise from World Bank president Jim Yong Kim that even though China is still classified as a developing country, loans to Beijing would cease to be made.
Instead the Bank will be refocusing its resources on poorer nations, increasing lending to these states from 63 per cent to 70 per cent by 2030. The Bank will also make better-off clients pay more for their loans.
The British view is that the Bank is good value for money, turning every dollar invested into $50 of new financing for government and enterprise in the developing world.
Trump’s support for the capital increase suggests that he and his team are not necessarily the economic vandals they are portrayed to be by the critics after declaring a phony trade war on China.
The World Bank may need all the resources it can lay claim to, after the IMF revealed that some 45 per cent of the world’s lowest income states are in danger of imploding under the weight of too much debt.
It is another huge risk in a global financial system rendered fragile by a decade of money printing and low interest rates.
The biggest advertising spender in Britain in 2017 was Rupert Murdoch’s Sky, splashing out £197.1million and outpacing Proctor & Gamble which formerly held the top spot.
The biggest riser was Tesco jumping 14 places to sixth with a 71.6 per cent increase in spend at £89.5million.
That could be the secret ingredient in Dave Lewis’s great recovery plan. Among the grocers, only Lidl comes near.
Lessons there perhaps for Sainsbury’s et al.