Waterstone admits rival buyer may foil pounds 300m WH Smith deal

Tim Waterstone, the bookselling entrepreneur, admitted yesterday that a rival buyer could launch a higher bid for Waterstone's and scupper his pounds 300m deal with WH Smith, writes Nigel Cope.

Barnes & Noble, a big US book retailer, is keen to expand in the UK and last year sent a team of executives to scour the country for suitable sites. It could still enter the fray as the Waterstone's requires approval from WH Smith shareholders.

"It is possible but I don't think they want to come in too fast into the market," Mr Waterstone said. "They've had their chance to look at it."

WH Smith said it did not expect a counter bid but would look at any significantly higher offer in the interests of shareholder value. A spokesman said: "If someone offered pounds 350m, you'd have to look at it wouldn't you?"

Mr Waterstone is investing pounds 6m in the new company that is buying Waterstone's as well as HMV music and Dillons book stores from EMI. This will give him 4.5 per cent of the new company which will be called HMV Media Group. The other directors, including Alan Giles, the chief executive of Waterstone's and Stuart McAllister of HMV, will invest similar sums giving management an initial 9 per cent stake in business. The deal values HMV and Dillons at pounds 500m. EMI will receive a minimum cash consideration of pounds 362.5m for HMV, plus further payments of pounds 50m.

Mr Waterstone will be chairman of the new company and work full-time. His Daisy & Tom children's shops will become part of the group at a later stage. The company will be valued at around pounds 12m.

Waterstone returns, page 3

Comments