Starwood Capital, the American property investor, has secretly acquired a stake of almost 3% in Whitbread, fuelling speculation of a takeover. Shares have climbed 9% in the last month, touching a year-high figure of £14.39 last week before closing at £14.19. That gives the company a market value of £3.1bn. Starwood founder and chief executive Barry Sternlicht has been trying to persuade Whitbread to manage its hotel operation Societe de Louvre. Whitbread chief executive Alan Parker has resisted the idea and is not receptive to the idea of a takeover. But the ultimate prize for Sternlicht would be to take control of the 470-strong Premier Travel Inn chain. The Sunday Times 05/11/06 (Business) page 3.1