The City Diary: No ribbons for Bentley's Maypole
Sunday 31 October 2010
Maypole Group, the Aim-listed hotelier, was forced into administration last week after "Clydesdale Bank, bankers to the company and its subsidiaries, demanded repayment of its loans".
This is clearly bad news for investors, but also rather embarrassing for Maypole chairman Simon Bentley, the self-regarding former boss of Blacks Leisure, pal of Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley and a consultant to, Mishcon de Reya, the lawyers favoured by the late Princess of Wales.
Bentley's a chartered accountant, a top Maypole shareholder and – at the time of the group's last annual report – a major creditor, having loaned the company £700,000. He likes puffing his numerous other talents too, including "extensive experience in investor relations and financial PR". That particular gift seemed to desert him last week. He did not return my calls.
Betfair off to a good start
The flotation of online betting exchange Betfair is off to a decent start as the company's done an excellent job of persuading investors that revenues rising by 5 per cent make it a growth story (rather than a utility play).
The rosy view is largely based on future plans to expand overseas (where the company has had mixed results) and the potential of its new LMAX share-trading platform – launched last week. So is it worth betting on the company repeating its successes in the sports-betting arena with the launch of "a financial exchange product that uses Betfair's revolutionary but familiar technology to allow you to bet on the world's financial markets"?
Maybe – but a note of caution. That quote comes from Betfair's 2007 press release on the launch of something called Tradefair Binaries. It's now defunct.
Mint's in bad condition
More on Mint, the inter-dealer broker I wrote about last week, which was bought out of a pre-pack administration by rival BGC in August.
Angry creditors assembled at Charing Cross Hotel in London on Wednesday where they were joined by an unwelcome guest – BGC "spy", Mark Court, from PR outfit Buchanan Communications. He was ejected after an objection from the floor where assembled creditors (including HMRC – £7m; and Bloomberg – £500,000) were asked for details of any conduct by the directors that they felt needed investigating. Meanwhile, many also vented about the firm's attachment to extravagant corporate hospitality, which included entertaining on a yacht called Powder Monkey – which they believe is owned by Mint's chairman, David Mills. I'm not sure we've heard the last of this.
The fickle world of advisers
When a City institution is hired to advise on a flotation, the deal tends to need approving by a so-called "Commitments Committee" – a cabal of partners at the advisory firm that give the nod to each project. The groups consist of about six senior players, who co-opt colleagues into their gang – so for a listing the relevant analyst will be invited along to share his expertise on the sector (and ensure he doesn't write any research trashing the firm's new client). Hiring lots of advisers, therefore, tends to ensure positive coverage, and this silence of the lambs was neatly illustrated this year with the floats of Ocado (nine advisers) and Promethean (another four).
Still, isn't it odd how these number-crunchers can change their minds once their employers are no longer being paid? This week, Promethean's former adviser, Numis, stopped recommending that its own clients buy the firm's shares (about time too, some might say, as they've lost more than half their value). Two fellow float advisers, JP Morgan Cazenove and Investec, remain employed and stay bullish on the stock. As is Goldman Sachs. But as Promethean is now a former client of God's bank, will Goldman be next to convert?
Cuthbert makes the most of cuts
Can public-spending cuts – as well as rises – be good for government suppliers? Here's Mouchel's chief executive, Richard Cuthbert, in buoyant mood in 2003 as he rode the Labour government's spending gravy train: "The agenda to improve public services will carry on, no matter what the colour of the government." Possibly not, Richard, but that's no reason to feel down. Here's his firm's statement last week, unveiling (another) disappointing set of numbers. "There is already evidence of more local authorities looking to outsource services to the private sector as they seek efficiencies [and] service improvements.... Mouchel is in a good position to provide support as it has a large number of long-term, large-scale local authority bundled service partnership contracts". Who'd have thought it?
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