Banks authorise Reichmann talks

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The Independent Online
THE 11 banks that have lent nearly pounds 600m to Canary Wharf have authorised the court appointed administrators, Ernst & Young, to negotiate with the investor group led by Paul Reichmann, the head of Olympia & York, which has made a pounds 350m offer for the project.

The decision follows a meeting between the banks and the administrators yesterday and comes despite serious reservations among the bankers about the offer. It also coincides with an announcement by Hanson that it is not going to make an offer for the project.

Hanson was expected to put together a deal that would take advantage of the massive tax losses and capital allowances available in Canary Wharf, but is understood not to have been able to find a structure that would allow it to set the losses off against its UK tax.

At the meeting, some banks expressed concerns that the offer from the consortium, in which they would put up pounds 350m to finish the project, would not put the banks in a better position to have their debts repaid.

However, the bankers were convinced that the consortium, which includes Primerica Corporation, owner of Wall Street firm Smith Barney, Lewis Ranieri, the former star Salomon Brothers trader, and Laurence Tisch, the chief executive of CBS television, was serious. They have asked E&Y to explore areas in which the offer could be restructured to give the banks a better deal.

Sources close to the New York group say Mr Reichmann, O&Y's founder, is still shopping the deal to other investors, and is ready to commit substantial amounts of his family's personal fortune to the salvage bid.

But a banking source said the talks would not necessarily make the consortium favourite to gain control of Canary Wharf.

It is understood that five other groups, including the Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing and a Japanese pension fund, have made approaches.

'In some of these cases talks are quite far advanced,' the source said. 'Reichmann has a lot of catching up to do.'

Sandy Weill, who heads Primerica, and Mr Tisch are known in New York as 'bottom fishers' - investors who buy assets at the bottom of the market in order to sell them at a profit when conditions improve.

Hanson's profits fall, page 23