Small Talk: Easier offers shareholders £5.4m to settle row with board

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The Mexican stand-off between the board of Easier and dissident shareholders seems to have been resolved. Brian Copsey, the chairman of the shell company that was de-listed from AIM in November 2004, has promised to break the stalemate by returning the group's £5.4m of cash to shareholders. Had a deal not been reached, dissidents at Easier would have ousted Mr Copsey, along with fellow director John Strachan, and appointed their own representatives at an EGM today.

Small Talk first drew attention to the problems at Easier in January of last year. Last month this column revealed that the Serious Fraud Office was investigating the company. This prompted concerns about the whereabouts of its cash pile - last seen in 2002 and worth around 21p a share. Mr Copsey's decision to return the money to shareholders will ease these worries.

Under the terms of the deal he has struck with the dissidents, who are led by Neville Buch, the founder of exhibitions organiser Blenheim Group, Easier will offer to buy back its own shares at 21p. All shareholders will accept this offer apart from Fulton Partners, the offshore company that has controlled Easier since taking a 25 per cent stake back in September 2003. Fulton, where Mr Copsey is a shareholder and a director, will end up with 100 per cent of Easier shares and then go about liquidating the firm.

As long as Mr Copsey lives up to his promise, that should bring the whole saga to an end. Last June he offered a similar deal and then failed to deliver. This time the dissidents have it in writing that if Mr Copsey fails to deliver he will resign and let them take control of the board.

Cashing in on debt

Almost 70,000 individuals became insolvent in 2005. While the majority opted to declare themselves bankrupt, some 20,300 opted to take out "individual voluntary arrangements" (IVAs), an increasingly popular halfway house. Debts.co.uk aims to take advantage of the deteriorating personal credit environment in the UK by administering IVAs. The group plans to list on AIM early next month and today it will start marketing its IPO in the City.

Debts.co.uk, which has a 5 per cent share of the IVA market, is unlikely to be short of work in the coming years. The UK is struggling under £1.1 trillion of consumer debt. A planned simplification of the IVA process next year is expected to raise its popularity among consumers in financial trouble. Debts.co.uk hopes to raise £8m from its float - £4m of new money and £4m to allow the company's early stage backers to cash in some of their chips. The group, which is tipped to secure a valuation of around £35m, will use the new money raised on marketing its services.

Fever pitch

Football fever is making its way to the City. Powerleague, the operator of five-a-side centres, will this week or early next officially open a site in the Square Mile, near Liverpool Street station. This will be the company's 33rd centre in the UK. With the World Cup just around the corner Powerleague seems to have captured the imagination of City workers. Forward bookings are believed to be very strong.

At the end of the month the group is expected to open a 10-pitch site in Coventry. Five-a-side football, which is one of the UK's fastest-growing sports, is big business. Powerleague, which is Britain's leading operator, is expected to turn over some £21m this year and make a profit of over £4m. Its profits are forecast to rise to £5.6m in 2007.

Monterrico poll threat

Given the continued march of popular left in Latin America, it is little wonder that shares in the Peru-focused copper miner Monterrico Metals did not fall further last week. On 1 May - the international day of the worker - Bolivia's President Evo Morales ordered the nationalisation of the country's energy industry.

Analysts believe his move will have emboldened the two left-wingers who are fighting it out in Peru's presidential election. The poll is due to be held later this month and although both have promised to pass on the benefits of the nation's mineral wealth to the poor, Ollanta Humala, the more radical of the two, has hinted at possible moves to nationalise mining assets.

Should he make it to the presidential palace in Lima, Monterrico could lose control of its Rio Blanco project. Although still under development, it is thought to be capable of producing 200,000 to 280,000 tonnes of copper a year. This makes it a key resource not just for Monterrico, but for Peru.

Anca C takes a turn on AIM catwalk

London fashion group Anca C will debut on Ofex today. Its shares are expected to start trading on the lightly regulated exchange at 100p, valuing Anca C at just over £2m. Set up five years ago by Anca Christache, its managing director, the company runs two boutiques in the capital, a flagship store in Chelsea and another in Hampstead.

Ms Christache wants to build an international brand and over the past 12 months has put in place manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong and China. Anca C targets women between 25 and 35 with what it calls its "affordable" designer products, particularly dresses and related accessories. Prior to establishing the group, the Romanian-born Ms Christache built up East Models, a modelling agency, which she eventually sold to a larger German player.

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