Loss-maker Blooms quits takeover talks

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The Independent Online

Blooms of Bressingham, the upmarket gardening centre group, vowed to pursue an independent future as it called off takeover talks with a number of possible bidders.

The company, which hit a nadir earlier this year after issuing a profit warning, said the proposals failed to "properly reflect" the prospects for its property portfolio. Dobbies, an Edinburgh-based rival, was thought to be behind one of the approaches. Its shares, which hit a low of 17p in January, dipped 0.5p to 30p.

Blooms warned that the abortive process had cost it £260,000, which it would charge as an exceptional item in its interim results. It also announced plans to sell three smaller garden centres and a plant-marketing business, raising up to £1.6m. It added that the disposal proceeds would be used to pare net debt to less than £7m, leaving it focused on its core larger centres.

The company provided further evidence of an improving sales trend, reporting a 9.6 per cent rise in underlying sales to 13 July. "Trading continues to be satisfactory...and our latest revised forecast for operating profit is comfortably in line with expectations," it added.

Charles Good, the chairman, said the group was "firmly" of the view that it had "passed the low point in its financial fortunes". He added: "The management team is highly energised by the turn round which they have delivered and are looking forward to producing a period of sustained and above average growth in profits."

Richard Ratner, an analyst at Seymour Pierce, said: "Blooms could turn out to be quite exciting in the longer term as it develops its larger centres, but in the meantime it has to prove it can deliver."

The company is pressing ahead with protracted plans to build a new centre at Rugby. It said it had "informal" approval for a 50,000 sq ft heated covered site. It also plans to extend sites at Gloucester and Bicester.

Blooms made a loss of £253,000 in the year to the end- of January, against £1m a year earlier. The company was founded in 1946 after Alan Bloom, 96, acquired Bressingham Hall in Norfolk.