Thistle to return pounds 120m to shareholders

NOMURA'S ATTEMPTS to buy Thistle Hotels collapsed yesterday after the group, which owns the Tower Thistle and the Mount Royal Hotels in London, rejected a bid from the Japanese bank because it was too low.

As partial compensation for the failure of the bid hotel chain is now believed to be planning to return more than pounds 120m to shareholders, it emerged yesterday.

In a statement released after the stock market closed, Thistle said that it had terminated talks with one suitor - which sources close to the company identified as Nomura - because it had cut its original bid to an "unacceptable" level.

The sources added that Nomura reduced its original bid - rumoured to have been around pounds 1.5bn - by up to 10 per cent due to "the volatility in financial markets over the last week". This led Thistle, which owns 91 hotels around the country, to reject the offer.

Nomura was yesterday unvailable for comment.

Thistle, whose largest shareholder is Brierley Investments, yesterday ruled out another offer from one of the bidders shortlisted in June when the company first put itself up for sale. That list was thought to include the venture capital group Blackstone, and Accor, the French owner of the Ibis and Sofitel chains. Thistle has been a prized target for a number of hotel companies, because of the heavy London weighting of its portfolio. The company owns 24 hotels in London, including the Tower Thistle at Tower Bridge and the Mount Royal at Marble Arch.

The company said it was "disappointing that the sale process did not produce an offer at a value that reflected" the "excellent potential" of Thistle's hotel portfolio.

However, it added that Thistle would be able to survive on its own and was planning a "substantial return of cash to shareholders'" which would enhance earnings per share and mantain " a sound financial position".

Sources said that the company was considering "all options, including a share buyback and an exceptional dividend", and indicated that shareholders are set to receive more than pounds 120m in cash.

"The return of cash would be in excess of 10 per cent of the company's market capitalisation, which has been between pounds 1.2-1.3bn in the past few months," they added.

Thistle sounded a bullish note on its trading to date, saying that the board "expects to confirm good progress for the half year" when it reports interim results on September 9.

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