Londis stands firm as Musgrave vote approaches

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Convenience store, Musgrave, Londis

Shareholders in UK symbol group Londis will vote next week to
decide on whether to accept a £60 million takeover bid from Irish
retailer Musgrave, a bid which has been consistently supported by
the company's board. But this has not stopped a number of other
interested parties from making rival offers for the business as
competition in the convenience store sector continues to intensify.

Musgrave's initial £40 million offer for Londis back in December 2003 sparked off a series of rival bids - notably from Iceland's parent company, Big Food Group - after it emerged that the lion's share of the proceedings would go to just a handful of Londis directors. A shareholder revolt meant that this initial bid was rejected and advisors KPMG brought in to assess new bids - resulting in a second, higher offer from Musgrave being accepted back in April.

But many Londis shareholders - who are also the store owners who trade under the Londis brand - remain unhappy with the Musgrave offer, despite the fact that they would receive more than £30,000 each as a result.

A significant number of Londis retailers are keen to retain the mutual status of the business - foregoing the cash offer in return for a long-term share of the company's profits - and this could be one of the prime motivators of an expected last-minute rival bid for the group from the Co-op, Britain's biggest convenience store operator and another mutually-owned company.

Reports in the UK press suggest that the Co-op is prepared to offer £66 million for Londis in a bid to scupper the Musgrave deal and further extend its lead in the convenience store market - a sector where the customer-owned company has come under increasing pressure from more mainstream rivals such as Tesco and Sainsbury.

Co-op's mutual status will no doubt make its offer an attractive proposition to a number of Londis shareholders, but whether there will be enough of them interested to ensure that the 75 per cent approval level for the Musgrave offer is not reached remains to be seen.

Despite its continued support from the Londis board, some shareholders believe that Musgrave will struggle to reach the 75 per cent acceptance level it needs at the Londis EGM on 22 June, but in fact the Irish group has proved particularly resilient to counter-bids. Its was not the highest offer for the chain among the 21 bids submitted to KPMG, but was considered the one most likely to offer long-term benefits to the company's shareholders, with its family-owned status and significant buying power.

The most recent counter-bid, from a group called Lancelot formed by former executive of the T&S convenience store group itself sold to Tesco in 2002, came earlier this month, and would have offered each Londis storeholder £13,000 rather than £30,000 in exchange for just 40 per cent of the group - in other words, allowing the shareholders to retain control of the business at the same time as benefiting from a cash windfall.

But the Londis board rejected this offer out of hand, saying that the company's lack of retail experience made it a poor choice to run the business, while shareholders remained sceptical about their long-term prospects under Lancelot's scheme, seeing it primarily as a bid to scupper the Musgrave deal and renegotiate on better terms.

Whether Co-op's expected offer will be seen in the same way remains to be seen, with even the supporters of mutual status increasingly concerned about dragging out the sale process even further. Around 100 Londis retailers have already switched to other symbol groups such as Costcutter amid the uncertainty over the group's future, and a further delay could see a greater exodus.

Related topics: Market Trends

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