Wednesday, 19 December 2007

New bidder for Northern Rock

A newcomer to save Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, has approached the stricken bank about buying assets. According to reports, the buy-to-let firm and mortgage lender is not looking to buy the troubled Newcastle-based bank outright, but could become part of a private-sector rescue package.

Two preferred bidders, Virgin Group and Olivant, are vying to take control of the stricken bank as discussed in earlier articles and press releases. Northern Rock has an attractive portfolio of mortgage assets which Bradford & Bingley would be happy to hold.

Bradford & Bingley, which has been plagued by concerns over its liquidity since Northern Rock's problems emerged, has, on paper, a more risky portfolio of lending since more than half of its business is in the buy-to-let market and 20% of its lending is on self-certified mortgages. Adding Northern Rock's quality assets to Bradford & Bingley should give ballast to the buy-to-let specialist's loan book.

Last month Bradford & Bingley went some way to easing fears over its liquidity by selling £4.2 billion of loans, which gave it a substantial cash cushion in preparation for further tightening of credit markets. Northern Rock's shares rose 6.6% this morning to 91.7p in early trading, while Bradford & Bingley's climbed 0.5% to 258.75p. (source: Timesonline) - Northern Rock dreams fading, New Bid for Northern Rock by Olivant, Northern Rock offers below value, Final bids for Northern Rock today, New player in Northern Rock bid, Virgin pushes forward in takeover, BAA must halve queueing times to avoid fines, SAB Miller to buy Royal Grolsch, BHP Billiton's offer rejected, News Corporation on taking over Dow Jones

Sports Direct today reported a 70% slump in first half profits and failed to name a new chairman for the troubled sportswear retailer after a seven month long search. The company, has issued two profit warnings since its flotation in February and blamed the decline on bad weather and the England football team's failure to qualify for the European Championships.

Profits for the six months to October 28 fell from £70.1 million to £21.2 million as sales fell by 7.1% to £668.1 million. Since floating in February, Sports Direct's shares have fallen in value by 70% to a current all-time low of 84.25p.

Sports Direct has been without a non-executive chairman since May when David Richardson, the former finance director at Whitbread quit after differences with the board.

Sports Direct refused to comment on its search for a chairman or its stake in Umbro, which is being pursued by Nike. Mike Ashley, Sports Direct's owner, added he had no intention of taking the company private. (source: Timesonline) - Northern Rock dreams fading, Alitalia SpA in sight for Air France-KLM, Sports Direct to block Nike takeover

The internet auction house formerly known as QXL Ricardo has been agreed to be bought by Naspers, Africa's largest media group. The sale for Tradus (new name for QXL), has been set for an all cash deal £946 million, which is £18 per share.

Having weathered the dot-com bust of the late 1990s, the FTSE 250-listed group has since been embroiled in a series of long-running legal disputes over the ownership of key assets, bitter shareholder wrangles and failed bids. The takeover will also unlock a £123 million payout to three managers of Tradus’s Polish operations.

The group of Polish executives, led by Arjan Bakker, was accused by the main board of what was then QXL Ricardo of wresting control of the Polish business "fraudulently", through an improper share issue. A three-year legal battle followed and that was finally settled with the fast-growing Polish unit, which also includes operations in the Czech Republic, Ukraine and a Hungarian joint venture, being reintegrated into the parent company.

EBay, the US online auction giant, which is currently planning a revamp of its own business, has held talks several times over the years with Tradus. Shares in Naspers fell as much as 11% in Johannesburg, with investors concerned over the agreed price.

The Naspers proposal represents a 19% premium to share price before Tradus revealed that it had received an approach, on November 7. Ahead of the approach being made public, Tradus traded at about 63 times earnings for the previous year, compared with about 26 times for eBay.

The company, which operates sites in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia, is also is diversifying from trading & auction sites into classifieds advertising, price comparison sites and online payment services.

When the group received a failed bid from Florissant, a private equity group, in 2005 it was valued at less than £30 million. At its peak, the former dot-com darling, founded by the journalist Tim Jackson, was briefly worth more than £2 billion. Florissant, which holds a 15% stake, will join Izaki, the Israeli investor group, with 14%, in also receiving a windfall profit from the sale to Naspers.

Tradus recently reported a 165 per cent jump in first-half pre-tax profit, to £3.68 million. Naspers, meanwhile, has been expanding overseas. The group, which owns South Africa's largest daily newspaper, the Daily Sun, and the pay TV outfit MultiChoice, has been building up its operations in sub-Saharan Africa, China and Russia. (source: Timesonline)

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