Persistent speculation that recent soft trading has made Whitbread a break-up candidate for private equity firms saw the company rise 5p on Friday to 950.5p. Mitchells & Butlers is thought to be interested in its Brewers Fayre and Beefeater pub restaurant arm. Whitbread's portfolio of hotels, restaurants, fitness clubs and coffee bars is described as "an improbable mix" by Taking Stock columnist Ben Laurance, who describes it as one of those businesses nobody would invent if it didn't exist. But he dismisses talk of a break-up bid for Whitbread as "pretty far-fetched". He says the company will not open its books to any would-be bidder and no venture capitalist would go hostile. He puts recent rises in the share price down to Whitbread being under-geared. The present 951p, says Laurance, is far more realistic than the 828p they touched last month. Hopes that the company will line up a further big payout to investors could push the shares above £10. The Mail on Sunday 19/06/05 (Financial Mail) page 8 The Times 18/06/05 page 64 (Larger Capitalisation Shares)