Titan bowls over Maiden for £10.6m

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The Independent Online

The recommended offer of £10.6m, or 20p a share, in cash is worth less than one-tenth of Maiden's share in April. In 2002, the shares were worth more than 500p. Unusually, the agreed bid came in at 25 per cent below Maiden's closing price on Monday. Ronald Zeghibe, Maiden's chief executive since 1992, had a 15 per cent stake in the company, for which he will collect £1.6m.

Maiden said it had won significant contracts last year but its banks had withdrawn support and it was left with no option but to take the offer from Titan. Barclays was the lead lender, with the banks owed £39m.

Maiden first breached its banking covenants in June. In December, when the company announced it had appointed the investment bank Rothschild to run an auction of the business, Maiden said it remained in breached of its covenants. It also said at the time trading had "fallen significantly short of expectations".

Maiden said yesterday: "In view of the position taken by the banks, and in the event this offer lapses, it would appear inevitable that Maiden will fall into insolvency."

Viacom, the US giant, and the Spanish operator Cemusa are also believed to have bid for Maiden, which has most of the billboards and other advertising on Britain's railways. Maiden's rivals allege that its rail contracts were won last year with uneconomic guarantees of income for Network Rail and the train operating companies.

William Apfelbaum, the chairman of the privately owned Titan, said he was not worried about the level of guarantees in those contracts. "I don't believe anything is non-economic if you sell a lot of advertising. You can sell your way out of it."

Titan owned a successful UK outdoor advertising business in the 1990s, which also focused on transport. Mr Apfelbaum said Maiden's main competitors in the UK - Viacom, Clear Channel and JCDecaux - would be "nervous" over Titan's re-entry to the UK. "We were very successful last time we were here. We see this [Maiden deal] as a first step.... We are ambitious young men," Mr Apfelbaum, who is 59, said.

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