Wray confirms links to Ellis...

...but plays down their significance. Nick Gilbert reports

Burford Holdings chairman Nigel Wray has confirmed that he has frequently been an early investor in issues handled by brokers Ellis & Partners.

But Mr Wray, a multi-millionaire best known for his ownership interests in Saracens and Nottingham Forest, otherwise downplays his close links with Ellis, until recently one of the most active on the Alternative Investment Market.

Ellis, whose best known broker is Clive Mattock, recently announced it would lower its AIM profile following a series of profit warnings issued by some of the companies it helped gain a listing on the AIM market.

"I have certainly been on the placing list for some Ellis issues," said Mr Wray, adding that over the years he has invested in "twelve to twenty" Ellis-related stocks including some quoted on the full market.

According to Mr Wray, he too has pulled back from the AIM market. "I don't invest any longer in small companies unless I take a declarable interest," he said. "I have invested in the past to show support for Clive Mattock whom I have known for many years but I haven't been able to give these small investments my proper attention."

The performance of Ellis AIM issues suggests that places would have done rather better than later public investors. In some cases the current share price is at or around the original placing price but below the price struck on the first day of dealing.

Most of the placings, where Ellis has frequently worked alongside nominated advisers Neill Clerk Capital and Smith & Williamson, have involved placing millions of shares at 3p each.

Generally most of the 20 issues on AIM have performed poorly since their stock market debut after hitting earlier highs. There are notable exceptions that have performed well like Chelsea Village and Charterhouse Communications.

Mr Mattock defends the record. "Some of our investors have taken their profits along the way and gone on to the next thing. There's a fine balance between getting a good deal for the company raising money and for investors."

According to Mr Mattock, Ellis has raised around pounds 75m for a small number of companies. "And our investors are by and large quite happy," said Mr Mattock.

One of Mr Wray's better investments is Charterhouse where he has a declarable stake of just over 4 per cent held via various trusts. When the company made its AIM debut last November, nearly five million of the 40 million shares placed went to Lacosint Establishment and Mare Navigation in Guernsey.

These two concerns appear on the share register at Ellis & Partners, and Lacosint is also shown as a shareholder in Nottingham Forest. Mr Wray says he has no interest in Lacosint but declines to reveal the identity of its owners. "I help them with their investments and I have earned fees for giving them investment advice."

Mr Wray has also been involved with attempts to raise money at Hall of Fame. The company plans to open a soccer hall of fame filling vacant space at the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus. Trocadero PLC, spun off from Burford Holdings, has been one of Mr Wray's flops.

q Mr Wray hopes to launch his joint venture with New York hotelier Ian Shrager on the AIM market by the end of the year. Burford Holdings and Shrager, host to Manhattan's trendiest at his Royalton and Paramount hotels, plan to open two London hotels by 1999.

One hotel will be in St Martin's Lane, the other in the famous Sandersons building off Oxford Street. Mr Wray estimates the final cost split between the two partners could be pounds 100m. Mr Shrager and Mr Wray, who discussed their plans in London on Friday, also plan to open hotels in cities including Paris, Milan and Barcelona.

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