Pentos in cash crisis: Suppliers worried that troubled group may have to defer payments

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The Independent Online
PENTOS, the troubled Dillons-to-Athena retail group, has renegotiated terms with some suppliers, raising fears that it is about to delay payment to others.

Dillons, the chain of booksellers, has agreed new terms of payment with many of its suppliers. However Athena, the cards and art poster arm, has not followed suit, raising concern.

The group is also involved in at least two High Court actions, triggering fears among suppliers that there may be further disruption.

Some years ago, Pentos had a reputation for late payment. But the new chief executive, Bill McGrath, is thought to be bent on rebuilding confidence as the group prepares for a rights issue.

The Athena suppliers' alarm is the latest setback in his efforts to revive the group's image, seriously tarnished by the time Terry Maher, the founding chairman, was ousted last November.

At the start of February, the group hit the headlines over a clumsy attempt to secure rent concessions from its landlords by sending requests with post-dated cheques. Frank Brazier, chief executive of Pentos Retailing, wrote to landlords of the group's 500 stores telling them that it had been forced to pay the December rents in three delayed payments because of cash-flow difficulties.

Then, a few weeks ago, the group sold most of its ailing Ryman Computer Stores for pounds 100,000, having paid pounds 3.7m for the 53 shops only two years before.

Pentos said it had lost pounds 700,000 on its office equipment business last year, and would be forced to write off pounds 3.9m for costs associated with the sale. It is also believed to have put at least 20 of its 172 Athena outlets on the market.

But the group's problems go far deeper. In December, Sir Kit McMahon, who replaced Mr Maher, warned it would incur a 'substantial' loss, after an exceptional charge for property and stock in the 1993 year. He also said Pentos would pass its final dividend.

Analysts predict a pounds 40m loss for the year, after exceptional charges of some pounds 30m. They also expect Mr McGrath to announce a rights issue to raise pounds 20m.

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