What connects the Hammerson takeover of rival property outfit Intu and Cineworld’s bid for the America movie chain Regal?
Both illustrate that, in Brexit Britain, multi-billion-pound deals are still possible. But, as significantly, both were driven by the determination of sunset enterprises to come together to better withstand digital challenges.
The combination of shopping centre empires Hammerson and Intu brings together Brent Cross and Birmingham‘s Bullring with Intu’s Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex.
Takeover: The Hammerson and Intu deal brings together Brent Cross and Birmingham’s Bullring (pictured) with Intu’s Trafford Centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex
It is a huge bet on a broader shopping and entertainment experience when retailers are struggling to cope with sales migration to online and changing consumer habits.
Similarly, the Cineworld-Regal deal is a bet on going to the pictures over streaming, downloading and being a couch potato.
As is so often the case with big deals, Hammerson-Intu is less the product of detailed analysis and more about two exasperated old pals – John Strachan of Intu, and Hammerson’s David Atkins – having a few drinks and deciding to reinvent the wheel.
The next thing they had to do was convince Trafford Park entrepreneur John Whittaker, with a 27 per cent stake in Intu, that it was a grand idea.
Atkins, who will be at the helm, thinks that, in spite of all the uncertainties surrounding the consumer, the demand among retailers for high-quality outlets in shopping centres is as strong as ever.
There will be some distance to the finish line before the benefits to investors become evident.
Combined debt of £8billion or so needs to fall, some £2billion of surplus assets in the UK need to be sold, and a clear strategy for continental expansion fully explained.
If that can be done then Britain will have a European force in big-city, modern shopping mall development and ownership.
Even by the standards of recent share price bloodbaths, the 60 per cent fall in the value of Steinhoff International is exceptional.
A quoted German and South African firm, Steinhoff is a relative newcomer to these shores. It bought dull assets such as furniture chain Harveys and Bensons For Beds, and also owns Poundland.
Luckily, Home Retail Group, owner of Argos, proved beyond its grasp and landed in the safe and more transparent ownership of Sainsbury’s.
There is a tendency in the UK and, seemingly, in Germany, to believe that companies ultimately run by South African billionaires must be solid.
No one in the City, at the time of the Poundland and Argos offers, was fully able to explain why Christo Wiese was buying orphan companies so readily.
Nor were we told how Steinhoff intended to knit together a disparate collection of retail and household brands with no obvious synergies.
More serious was a lack of discussion of apparent governance shortcomings.
The German authorities searched Steinhoff offices in 2015 looking for suspicious transactions.
This was shortly before Wiese moved the group’s main share quote from Johannesburg to Frankfurt. Earlier this year, the German publication Manager Magazin reported chief executive Markus Jooste allegedly was under investigation.
Jooste has been removed and, instead of issuing financial results, Steinhoff has called in PwC to probe accounting irregularities. Wiese has temporarily filled the top role.
None of this speaks well of listing arrangements for overseas-controlled enterprises in Frankfurt. The brutal market reckoning looks deserved.
In the past few frantic days the bitcoin price explosion has been compared to 17th century tulip mania, the 18th century South Sea Bubble and the calamitous ramp of the silver market by oil tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt and family in the last century.
Former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is the latest entrant to the great debate. He compares the rise of bitcoin to that of the 1776 Continental Curency dollar, which soared in value after American independence and was used by America’s first president, George Washington, to buy baubles and handsome furnishings.
As more of the crypto-currency was printed the holders recognised they were part of giant Ponzi scheme, and the Continental was revealed as worthless.
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