Brent Walker banks reject Pubmaster bids

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The Independent Online
The sale of Brent Walker's Pubmaster subsidiary was in jeopardy this weekend after the debt-laden betting and pubs group's banks rejected all four bids as substantially below the price expected.

The board was expecting offers of pounds 150m-pounds 160m for Pubmaster, one of the country's biggest operators with 1,700 small tenanted outlets.

However, Brent Walker sources indicated that when the bidding closed on Friday, the four leading bidders had offered closer to pounds 130m and had been told to think again.

"None is acceptable and all have been told to revise their bids," one source said.

The bidders include former Pubmaster chief executive John Brackenbury, who is backed by Prudential Ventures and Natwest Ventures. Others are understood to include venture capital firms Apax, Legal & General, and CVC.

The pub sale would leave Brent Walker with the William Hill betting chain, the country's second largest, after a rack of disposals since a pounds 1.6bn rescue by banks, led by Standard Chartered, in 1991. It would, however, hardly make a dent in the group's pounds 1.5bn of debt.

Offers for William Hill, from Bass and most recently a pounds 400m approach from Liverpool-based Stanley Leisure, have also been rejected as too low. Instead, Brent Walker intends to keep William Hill until the 1995 results are known and the latest effects on profits of the National Lottery and new amusement machines now allowed in betting shops.

Brent Walker's 60 banks gave a green light to the Pubmaster sale in their regular review meeting at the beginning of August. They were originally hoping to float Pubmaster as a separate company for pounds 200m, but scrapped the plans when institutional interest flagged.

Instead, Pubmaster was offered to trade buyers, the big pubs groups, but again it failed to attract serious offers.

Finally, the banks were forced to drop the price and the chain was marketed to venture capital groups, as well as the management buy-out team.

Mr Brackenbury meanwhile resigned in May after the flotation was scrapped.

Pubmaster made operating profits of pounds 16.3m on turnover of pounds 92.9m last year. In May, the group wrote down its book value by pounds 18m to pounds 140m in the run-up to sale.

This weekend, advisers warned that it might be weeks before the sale was finally approved, given the number of banks involved.

"It is a rash man who has assumed that it's going to go through quickly," one said.

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