Alchemy stalks Walkabout chain

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The Independent Online

Regent Inns, the company behind the Walkabout bars and Jongleurs comedy clubs, has received a bid approach from the private-equity firm Alchemy Partners that analysts say is likely to value it at about £150m.

The news sent the company's shares soaring by nearly 9 per cent to 117.25p yesterday, giving it a market value of £133m.

Simon French, at Numis, said Alchemy, which already owns the bar and pub groups Inventive Leisure and the Tattershall Castle Group, could pay up to 135p a share for Regent. Analysts outlined the logic of combining Regent's Walkabout and Bar Risa chains with the Revolution vodka bars of Inventive Leisure.

Last year Regent lost out to Alchemy in the bidding for Inventive Leisure and also failed to buy Urbium, the Tiger Tiger bar owner. Greg Feehely at Altium said "This is a clear indication that it is too small to cope with the escalating costs associated with operating in this sector. We have long commented that Regent must 'Eat or be eaten' - we now believe the latter is the most likely outcome."

He added that Alchemy would need to pay 120p to 130p to gain serious consideration. The approach is the latest in a rapidly consolidating industry, with a consortium led by the property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz working on a bid for the All Bar One owner Mitchells & Butlers.

Regent had to admit recently that its cautious approach to the new licensing regime, which revolutionised pub opening hours last autumn, had knocked revenues. Like-for-like sales growth halved to 0.5 per cent in the six months to New Year's Eve, from 1.1 per cent previously. Sales at Regent suffered after the company decided to tighten security by putting more bouncers on the door and carrying out increased ID checks on people under 25.