Luminar sales slide as predators prowl

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The Independent Online

Luminar, the bar and nightclub operator that is being stalked by a consortium led by the property entrepreneur Nick Leslau, reported a fall in annual sales yesterday.

Britain's biggest nightclub operator insisted it had still not received an approach for the business and was not in talks with any suitors. Last week Mintgate Investments, which is led by Mr Leslau's Prestbury Investment Holdings and co-owned by the property and retail investors Robert Tchenguiz and Tom Hunter, said it was "contemplating making an approach to Luminar."

Mintgate raised its stake in the business to 5.99 per cent on Friday with the purchase of 1 million shares at 623p. A bid for Luminar could be pitched at between 650p and 780p a share, according to analysts. Its shares fell 15p to 601p.

Luminar, which runs about 250 venues, said trading conditions had remained difficult since Christmas. Group like-for-like sales dropped 0.6 per cent in the year to 2 March. That masked a better performance in the dancing division which rose 2.9 per cent, with sales in the branded nightclubs up 9.3 per cent.

Luminar has been trying to reinvent itself by turning its venues into big city-centre nightclubs under the Oceana, Lava & Ignite, Liquid and Life brands. The group said it was accelerating the roll-out and increased its investment in the four brands to £65m from £50m. The group hopes to double the number of branded nightclubs from 40 to 80 by 2009.

The entertainment division, which comprises the Chicago Rock and Jumpin' Jaks brands, suffered a 6.2 per cent drop in like-for-like sales, with five Jumpin' Jaks clubs causing most of the pain. Luminar failed to sell the business last year and is looking to sell the Jumpin' Jaks clubs and other non-core, unbranded venues on a piecemeal basis.

While it looks like any bid is still some time off, Mr Leslau and his backers could face opposition from Brian Myerson, who controls almost 3 per cent of Luminar through his vehicle the Principle Capital Investment Trust.

Analysts said Luminar was an attractive target, particularly for private-equity investors.