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Permira Looks at Buyout Bid for W.H. Smith

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May 1-15, 2004 Edition

Permira Looks

at Buyout Bid

for W.H. Smith

LONDON/04/23/04—Permira Advisers Ltd. is considering a buy-out of W.H. Smith Plc, the U.K.’s biggest magazine and book retailer, despite Smith’s heavy loss of 84 million pounds ($149 million) for the six months ending February 2004.

The potential offer, valued at about 940 million pounds (1.41 billion euros, 1.70 billion dollars) is being fronted by Simon Burke, the former chief executive of toy store Hamleys, and Keith Hammill, the chairman of menswear retailer Moss Bros Group and a former WH Smith finance director.

Smith plans to reduce its staff by 270 and to cut its dividends from 6 pence a year earlier to 4 pence per share for 2003 to make the company more attractive to the potential buyers.

The 212-year-old company reported its first loss in six years during the second half of last year in the face of growing competition from supermarkets and discount stores. The loss in the first half of the fiscal year compared to a profit of 27 million pounds a year earlier.

The Permira bid is still in the preliminary stages, and Smith warned shareholders that it is not certain an offer will be made.

Smith’s Christmas season sales, which comprise about three-fourths of its annual operating profit, fell below expectations and 2004 earnings also will be below forecasts.

W.H. Smith, founded in 1792 by Henry Walton Smith, has sold off a number of hotel lobby and airport shop operations. The company is also considering selling 200 Australia and New Zealand stores.