Comment: It’s all about timing as Direct Line listing looms
STEPHEN Hester, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, has taken a determined approach to offloading unwanted assets, but Direct Line is a business he was less willing to sell.
The insurer, which is poised for a £3 billion flotation, is in rude health and disclosed on Friday that it had paid a £1bn dividend to its parent last year. Investors, however, remain divided on how successful its listing will be.
As RBS is being forced to sell it by 2014 as a condition of receiving state aid, there are concerns that it has not been able to choose its own timing.
It may be RBS’s and Direct Line’s good fortune that equities have been lifted by recent supportive measures from the world’s central banks. But as we reported last week, the markets believe the £3bn valuation could be a little demanding and in a more risk averse climate there are fewer investors prepared to gamble on the upside. German insurer Talanx scrapped its own flotation plans only last week.
Other matters overhang Direct Line such as the likelihood of the car insurance market being referred to the competition authorities.
Private equity showed some interest in acquiring Direct Line and there is still an outside chance of a bidder snapping it up, though it looks like a float prospectus will be published shortly. Private investors will get a chance to buy a stake in a privatisation-lite campaign that should stimulate more interest.
Sporting chance for 4,000 jobs
THE entrails of JJB, the walking-dead sports retailer, will be picked over by its rivals this week when Sports Direct and JD Sports are expected to acquire the biggest parts of the business.
Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct will get the bulk of the company, probably through a pre-pack administration that should hopefully save some of the 4,000 jobs.
One of the former stars of the high street has been a poor investment for shareholders who will lose everything. Dick’s Sporting Goods, the US firm, has been forced to write off the £20m it put in only five months ago.
Sir Tom Hunter is one of the few who’ll be thanking his lucky stars. It changed his life when he sold Sports Division to Dave Whelan’s JJB for £290m in 1998. Where would he be now if he had turned down that offer?
Sealed with a kiss
CUPID’S arrow was fired again last week when an Edinburgh-based online dating company paid £7 million to consummate another relationship.
The acquisition of Uniform Dating, a website for those with obvious preferences, is the latest move in a strategy of acquiring niche dating services where there is potential for international expansion.
Uniform Dating joins flirt.com and benaughty.com in a portfolio that may make its detractors blush but is proving big business for co-founder Bill Dobbie. He has made a killing since floating the firm just two years ago at 60p a share. They now trade above 200p.
Prospects for the company remain positive with the market expanding on the back of a number of supporting trends: a growing number of one-person households, the spread of social media networks, mobile internet and the steady acceptance of dating websites.
Some people sniggered when Dobbie took what was then called EasyDate to market, but the joke’s on them now.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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