Waterstone's founder offers £280m to buy back chain

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The Independent Online

Tim Waterstone went public with his private equity-backed offer amid fears that HMV was stalling for time so it could decide whether to revive its campaign for Ottakar's.

HMV agreed to pay £96.4 million for Ottakar's last year before letting its offer lapse when authorities stepped in and referred it for a full competition enquiry.

With the shadow of that probe now lifted and a tie-up cleared last month by the Competition Commission, analysts believe HMV will proceed with a new bid - albeit at a lower price.

Mr Waterstone set up the book chain that bears his name in 1982 and revealed today that he would install himself as chairman if he secured control, with former Penguin UK boss Anthony Forbes Watson taking the role of chief executive.

His indicative offer - equivalent to 70p per HMV share - was first put on the table in February and finance has been secured in principle.

Mr Waterstone conceded that he was paying a very full price to regain control, especially as Waterstone's was facing an uphill struggle to win back market share from online booksellers such as Amazon and supermarkets.

But relationships with the publishing industry had been badly damaged by the bid battle for Ottakar's and HMV would not be as well-placed to repair them, he said.

Publishers and authors had lobbied the Competition Commission to block the takeover on the grounds that quality and choice on the high street would fall.

Mr Forbes Watson said: "We believe it would be a mistake for HMV to acquire Ottakar's.

"Recovery at Waterstone's is the priority and the acquisition of Ottakar's would present a perilous distraction from this objective, bringing the additional risk that apparent synergies would not materialise.

"We are making this statement publicly because a decision by the board and shareholders of HMV is time-critical, and in order to avoid a false market developing in either company's shares."

Shares in HMV rose more than 3% to 176.75p after Mr Waterstone revealed his plans.