Trading in Queens Moat Houses shares suspended as crisis talks continue

Shares in the hotel chain Queens Moat Houses, were yesterday suspended from trading while the company continued its crisis talks with lenders over its £630m debt mountain.

The UK Listing Authority ordered trading in QMH to cease after the group failed to post its interim results on time.

The company, which was on the brink of collapse in 1993, is undergoinganother strategic review that includes restructuring its debt pile.

Talks with lenders over its debts have not been completed in time to file its results, which, under listing rules, had to be submitted to the stock market on Saturday.

QMH is likely to be asking lenders to swallow a chunk of their debt so that the company can continue operating.

Stuart Metcalf, QMH's corporate development director, yesterday said all options to manage its complex debt structure were being discussed, but said the talks were progressing well.

"We thought it was in everyone's interests if we were able to make a complete announcement of our results and the outcome of our strategic review," Mr Metcalf said.

He added that the board was still considering all the strategic options open to the company.

As well as the debt restructuring, the board will be looking at the possibility of selling off assets as well as weighing up a management buyout of the company.

QMH has been battling with debts for the past decade, when it was saddled with more than £1bn of borrowings.

Its then banks stepped in to put a new management team in place, in the form of Andrew Coppel, who went about selling 150 hotels.

Since then, the company has paid off more than £600m of its debts, of which £300m was a debt-for-equity swap. It has also made £300m in interest payments.

The group still has 88 hotels left in the UK, Germany and Holland, but has been hit put in a perilous financial position once again following a fall-off in global tourism.

"We have interest payments of around £50m a year on our debts," Mr Metcalf said yesterday. "The global hotel market has slowed, because of a general downturn in the economy, the fear of terrorist attacks, and the war in Iraq.

"There has also been the foot and mouth and Sars impact. The business has suffered, but our interest payments are static - that puts pressure on us."

Mr Metcalf said he was working hard to complete the review and to secure the support of lenders as soon as possible, but it is understood they will still take some weeks to complete.

The shares were suspended at 8.5p, valuing the company at £33m.

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