Hilco focuses on shaky Silverscreen

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The Independent Online

Distressed debt specialist Hilco is eyeing up the collapsed DVD-selling chain Silverscreen.

The 65-store retailer, which is majority-owned by Apax, a private equity firm, and reported annual turnover of £64m, called in administrators Kroll last Wednesday. It blamed the move on cashflow difficulties caused by tough conditions on the high street, along with stiff competition from the internet and supermarkets.

Silverscreen had been pursuing an ambitious expansion plan, however, and one source that has been following the company's progress argued that high rents were also to blame. "They just went for growth and did it with fixed costs that were too high."

Kroll is trying to sell Silverscreen, which employs around 550 staff, as a going concern. It said no redundancies were planned "at this stage".

Like most prospective suitors, Hilco - a US-controlled group that specialises in distressed debt and underperforming retailers - is unlikely to buy the entire chain. It will instead look to acquire a significant number of stores.

Hilco has played a part in several high-street deals in recent years. It took on Lehman Brothers' debt in Allders last year, as well as advising the sale of the department stores, and turned around menswear chain Ciro Citterio before selling it.

It was also involved with the acquisition, by Primark-owner Associated British Foods, of Littlewoods, managing the stores ABF did not want prior to them being sold off or closed.

First-quarter rent payments are now due, and some fear the tough conditions on the high street mean many retailers will struggle to pay, prompting a fresh round of collapses.

Some analysts are expressing concern about the DIY market, and the sector will be hoping for a strong Easter - traditionally its busiest time of the year - to prop up otherwise weak trading.

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