Bass sells off 1,400 pubs in pounds 564m deal

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The Independent Online
Bass announced yesterday the sale of most of its tenanted pub estate for pounds 564m as part of the massive restructuring of the group which will see it launch a pounds 850m share buy back and still have room for a pounds 1bn- plus acquisition. Andrew Yates reports on a deal which brings together two of the most successful figures in the restaurant industry.

Bass is selling 1,428 pubs to Roger Myers, who created Pelican, the Cafe Rouge and Dome restaurant group and Hugh Osmond, one of men behind the success of Pizza Express.

The pair are poised to embark on a shake-up of the estate involving the creation of several new pub restaurant brands and themed bars.

Mr Osmond said yesterday: "Brewers have been spending money expanding their sexy pub managed while the tenanted estates have been neglected. Some of these pubs have not been changed for 20 years. There are a lot of opportunities to improve their performance."

Bass has now raised a total of pounds 800m in the last few days with the sale of the pub estate coming hot on the heels of the disposal of its Gala bingo business. It plans to buy back pounds 850m of its shares, or 11 per cent of its market value. However it still has a sizeable war chest and is understood to still be looking for hotel acquisitions in the Far East.

Bass will now concentrate on expanding its managed pub estate, and rolling out brands such as All Bar One and its O'Neill's Irish bars.

City analysts believe that Bass got a good price for the pubs and its share price rose 4p to 899p yesterday.

Mark Puleikis, drinks analyst at Merrill Lynch said: "Bass could still easily go out and spend pounds 1bn tomorrow if it wanted to. It has done well to get out of two of its two weakest businesses for a good price."

However some City observers believe that the decision by Bass to give money back to shareholders suggests that it has run out of acquisition targets. "It is a surprise they gave this money back to shareholders so soon. It shows that they could not find anything else to spend it on," said one analyst.

Mr Osmond has made several million pounds from selling shares in Pizza Express and My Kinda Town, the Henry J Bean's group he was also involved with. Now he has put most of this personal fortune into the pub venture. "I haven't got much left," he said.

Luke Johnson, Mr Osmond's partner at Pizza Express, is also taking a stake in the business. Mr Osmond is expected to step down as an executive director of Pizza Express to concentrate on the new pub business.

He will be joined at the new pub company by Alan McIntosh, who worked with Mr Osmond on the flotation of Topps Tiles earlier this year and was described yesterday as "a good old Scottish accountant."

The partners are backed by BT Capital Partners, the private equity arm of Bankers Trust, and the new pubs are likely to be added to the 845 strong Phoenix pub estate Mr Osmond bought from Nomura, the Japanese banking giant, last month.

Randy Shure of BT Capital said: "The brewers are nearly at the end of their disposal programme and they have saved the best for last. The business is a tremendous cash cow and we believe we can create real growth by putting the cash back in the business." The new group is likely to be floated on the stock market within five years.

Outlook, page 21