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Business News

The pawnbroker's golden balls-up ends with its sale

Albemarle & Bond had been forced to melt down and sell some of its own gold

You would have thought that for pawnbrokers, making money in economically straitened times would be like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. But not if you are Albemarle & Bond.

Yesterday morning, four directors resigned from the board of Britain's biggest pawnbroking chain. Then, in the afternoon, a fifth tendered his resignation. In the evening, the company announced it was up for sale.

These were the latest events in a dramatic unravelling of the company's fortunes, which has seen its share price collapse more than 90 per cent in the last year, thanks to a dramatic fall in the gold price and a catastrophically optimistic store opening programme. Intense competition has only made matters worse: last week the company admitted it had been forced to melt down and sell some of its own gold reserves in order to stay within its banking covenants.

A&B said it had received a number of bids from others in the trade plus financial buyers (usually industry-speak for private equity-style bids). One such bidder will inevitably be US pawnbroker EZCorp, which is already a 29 per cent shareholder. Two of the directors to step down yesterday were EZCorp representatives on the board, who were obviously recusing themselves in order to clear out conflicts of interest on the board.

To some extent, EZCorp can be held culpable for part of A&B's current plight, because it refused to back a rights issue last month aimed at raising £35m.

The City is still waiting for the company to publish its full-year results, due in October, but which were delayed as major restructuring took place, including the closure of all but two of its pop-up stores and ending new payday loans. If results are delayed by more than six months the shares will be suspended.

The former management went on an expansion drive between 2009 and 2011, much of which is now being reversed by Chris Gillespie, the new chief executive.