Maiden hoists for sale sign after breaching covenants

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Maiden Group was put up for sale yesterday after the company, a seller of advertising space on billboards at railway stations and roadsides, warned it would lose money this year.

The shares fell 5.5p to a new low of 76p on news that a dismal past two months and a string of setbacks meant Maiden would make a full-year operating loss and was technically in breach of its banking covenants.

Numis, the company's broker, is reviewing its "buy" rating and the investment bank NM Rothschild has been asked to assess Maiden's options.

Rothschild is thought to be canvassing potential buyers including its American rivals Clear Channel and Viacom, and France's JCDecaux. Private-equity groups are also likely to be interested in the London-based company, which is now valued at only £43m. It is hoped that a buyer may be unveiled early next year.

Like its competitors, Maiden has withered in an arid advertising market as the consumer slowdown prompted firms to spend less on promotion. Long-suffering shareholders, who have seen the value of their investment plunge by almost 70 per cent this year, were told yesterday that a major £80m five-year contract with the Irish state-owned rail and bus operator CIE had fallen through. That would have handed Maiden one-quarter of the outdoor advertising market in the Republic.

Delays left the company struggling to wring profits from other contracts, while a series of one-off hits - including bid costs on contracts, consultancy charges and legal costs from a year-long wrangle over a sales agency agreement - deepened the gloom.

Maiden has panels at more than 500 railway stations across the country and its retail division controls the rights to some 118 shopping centres, including Bluewater in Kent and Merry Hill in the West Midlands.