The pent-up deals in the City pipeline

It's been carnage for mergers and flotations but some still have a pulse. Mark Leftly on the big-money transactions awaiting a kinder market

Sunday 03 August 2008 00:00

Deals are the lifeblood of the City. Since August last year, though, that flow has been cauterised, with takeovers, mergers and flotations canned as the markets dive. Some deals, though, remain on the table as sellers, buyers and investment bankers hope that the markets will improve just enough to see them through.

Travel: no take-off for Jet Aviation

Morgan Stanley has been working on a strategic review of Jet Aviation, the Swiss-based executive jet business owned by private equity group Permira, since the start of the year. The bank's brief was to examine the possibility of a £1bn sale, though little has been heard about the plans since the news broke. Permira is still thought keen to cash in on its investment, but a senior banker who has looked at Jet Aviation for interested parties says the "economic environment and the credit crunch" make a deal unlikely any time soon. " 'On pause' is the phrase I'd use," says the source.

Environmental products: lethal weapon takes AIM

Green Rubber Global, the tyre recycling company co-owned by Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, was due to list on the junior Alternative Investment Market in the first quarter this year. The ailing capital markets inevitably put this back and Green Rubber said it would review a November initial public offering (IPO) in late August or September. But the company, part of the Malaysian technology conglomerate Petra, could well wait until 2009. Green Rubber vice-president Andrew Murray-Watson seems to hint at this when he says: "Clearly the impact of the credit crunch and the knock-on to the capital markets has to be taken into consideration. Market sentiment would have to improve from current levels to IPO."

Mining: Russian smokescreen

Bankers have estimated that listings by companies in the Russian and Commonwealth of Independent States could be worth $20bn (around £10bn) in the second half of this year. One of these, mining giant Rusal, has a "50:50 chance" of getting away in November, says an industry source. Rusal pulled a $9bn London IPO last year, suggesting the credit crisis had made the market too volatile. Yet in late 2007 Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, a Kazakhstan peer, did go ahead with its listing, raising £1.36bn. A source involved in Rusal's plans suggests the credit crunch was used as a smokescreen, the delay in fact a result of the company's decision to pursue a merger with nickel producer Norilsk instead.

Property: Grainger revisited

Regis Group, the property investment fund, has until 5pm on 19 August to make a tilt at Grainger Trust, the listed residential landlord. The Takeover Panel set the date following The Independent on Sunday's report that Regis was interested in a bid of around £700m, just 18 months after a failed £885m offer. Regis was forced to admit it had watched Grainger "for several months" but was uncertain whether it could find the finance needed for an offer. Sources suggest Regis is struggling to find a financial partner, with the William Pears Group – its backer in the failed bid – declining an invitation to join in this time round. If Regis is not in a position to make an offer, it will be another six months before the Takeover Panel allows another attempt.

Retail: shopping centre bargains

Property agents have been trying to sell stakes in three of the country's six "super regional shopping malls" – and none has yet fulfilled its task. British Land has in effect dropped its effort to sell 75 per cent of Meadowhall, the Sheffield centre, which went on the market for £675m last year. A source close to the process says selling agent Jones Lang LaSalle still has "an advisory mandate and takes calls from potentially interested parties – but that is a very different scenario to hawking it around". The Norwich Union-owned fund Morley is closer to selling off a 50 per cent stake in the Bentall Centre in Kingston upon Thames, with "two of three parties interested", says a retail industry insider. Land Securities is also down to a shortlist of bidders for its one-third stake in the £1bn Birmingham Bullring, though industry observers think it could be hard to sell as a winner would not have a controlling interest.

Leisure: Virgin in-Active

In May, Sir Richard Branson made a little-noticed remark that his Virgin Active gym chain would float in 18 months. The previous November, Goldman Sachs was hired to lead the IPO, and while a timetable was never set out publicly, senior leisure bankers knew the ambition was to float in the second half of this year. Sir Richard's comment had in fact confirmed speculation that the IPO was heavily delayed, though others close to the gym chain think that even the revised plan is ambitious: "At the earliest, Virgin Active will IPO next year. Market conditions are inappropriate," says a source.

Media: a snail's pace

Sir Crispin Davis, chairman of media giant Reed Elsevier, always said the £1.25bn sale of its business information unit, RBI, was not a rush job. But the snail-like movement of the process has amazed many potential bidders. "From around May, RBI would say that a sales pack would be ready next week, then it would be next week, and then next week again," says one, adding that Reed was giving bidders time to prepare their financing. Last month, an information memorandum was finally issued and included a $330m loan from Reed to help bidders take RBI, which publishes Design Week, off its hands.

Building: falling down

The sector has been buffeted by job cuts, steep profit falls and debt problems. Taylor Wimpey has struggled more than most, very publicly failing to raise £500m from investors at the start of last month. While looking at other options, such as asset sales, Taylor Wimpey is still trying to raise the cash as it tries to avoid breaching banking covenants on debt totalling £1.7bn. An analyst says: "The detail of the cash call came out while Wimpey was negotiating with investors, and that helped scupper it. Now the company has learned to keep its trap shut, so could yet negotiate a fund-raising."

Gambling: Tote worth a bet

Labour first mooted the sale of the Tote as part of its 2001 manifesto, and still the saga goes on. The chain, with 529 stores and 4,000 staff, will finally be auctioned this autumn by Goldman Sachs, the Treasury's favourite banker. But sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe has warned that this could still be delayed if it seems likely the Government won't get Goldman's £280m valuation, itself £120m less than the pre-credit crunch price tag. More than 40 parties are thought to have registered an interest in the group, with William Hill believed to be one of the frontrunners.

Utilities: to BE or not to BE

The sale of British Energy isn't off for certain, but French giant EDF has been way off BE's valuation, which led to the deal foundering on Thursday. The credit crunch's impact was to help reduce the number of bidders to just one. Had the debt markets been more willing to fund rival bids, and a proper competition, perhaps the price would have been more to BE's liking.

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