Barclays delays Bank Windhoek bid until Absa merger is completed

UK financial group Barclays plc (LON:BARC) said it had put off its bid to acquire a controlling stake in Namibia’s Bank Windhoek Ltd from financial services group Capricorn Investment Holdings Ltd until it finalised the merger of its African business with its unit Absa Group Ltd.

Namibia’s central bank gave the green light to the potential acquisition in June, after it had previously prevented Absa from buying at least 70% in Bank Windhoek over concerns about foreign dominance. The value of the proposed deal was not determined then. If successful, the purchase of Bank Windhoek’s stake would mark the British lender’s first step in the south-western African country.

Barclays Bank plc, part of Barclays, said on 21 August that it was in negotiations about a possible combination of most of its African operations with Absa. The proposal concerns the lender’s assets in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and the Indian Ocean.

The operations have a combined workforce of some 8,000 people, a network of more than 400 branches and 750 ATMs serving some 2.2m customers. As at December 2011, the businesses concerned had total assets of around GBP6bn (USD9.7bn/EUR7.4bn).

Barclays Bank said previously that the success of the talks could not be guaranteed. If approved, the combination is seen to be completed no earlier than 2013. As part of the plan, Barclays Bank will remain a majority shareholder of the combined African operations and the listing of its subsidiaries in Kenya and Botswana will be preserved.

Sling broadband picks Ubiquiti for hardware

Ubiquiti Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ: UBNT) said it has become the official hardware provider for Florida-based Sling Broadband, a top Internet service provider in over 30 major markets nationwide.

Ubiquiti Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ: UBNT) said it has become the official hardware provider for Florida-based Sling Broadband, a top Internet service provider in over 30 major markets nationwide.

Using Ubiquiti hardware and software, Sling Broadband provides Internet solutions to the Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena, serves as the official ISP for all Obama campaign activities in Florida, and provides Internet infrastructure for notable organizations and events such as the Department of Justice, NASCAR and Super Bowl XLIV.

The company has been using Ubiquiti products exclusively since 2009, and has installed Ubiquiti’s airMax and UniFi lines for its entire customer base, including 9,000 customers in the Miami metropolitan area alone. The company attributes its 99.999% uptime guarantee and quick 3-5 day installation process in large part to Ubiquiti’s high-performance products.

Sling Broadband is one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers, consistently ranked as one of the top ten networks in North America.

Ubiquiti Networks is a next-generation communications technology company that designs and manufactures proprietary technologies.

Premier Foods sells table sauce unit to Japan’s Mizkan for £93m

British food producer Premier Foods Plc (LON:PFD) said on Tuesday it had reached a conditional agreement to offload its sweet pickles and table sauces operations to Japan’s Mizkan Group Corp for GBP92.5m (USD148.6m/EUR114.7m) in cash, which will be deployed for debt reduction.

Upon finalisation of the transaction, which is seen to occur early next year, following green light from the vendor’s stockholders and approval from its back syndicate, Premier Foods will have raised GBP370m in proceeds from offloads since March 2012. This amount is well over the target of GBP330m by June 2014, agreed upon with its lenders under its new financing arrangements, the British company said.

The business to be shed includes the manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing and licensing of the Branston brand, a private label operation and the Bury St Edmunds manufacturing site in Suffolk. The product range includes sweet pickle, ketchup, relish, salad cream and mayonnaise.

With the disposal, Premier Foods will be able to concentrate efforts on its grocery business and on building value in the bread line, its CEO, Michael Clarke, said. Upon close of the transaction, the branded sales mix of the grocery operations will represent some 90%.

The Branston brand is a strategic addition to Mizkan’s global range and enhances the group’s position to expand in the UK, Mizkan’s CEO, Kazuhide Matazaemon Nakano VIII, added.

Austrian OMV unit Gas Connect Austria to dispose of grid operation

Austrian gas pipeline operator Gas Connect Austria GmbH, a wholly owned unit of OMV Gas & Power GmbH, has entered into an agreement to sell 45% in its subsidiary AGGM Austrian Gas Grid Management AG.

The interest will be split equally between regional gas distribution companies EVN Netz GmbH, OO Ferngas Netz GmbH and Gasnetz Steiermark GmbH. Gas Connect did not volunteer any details with regard to financial terms or other deal specifics such as timeframe for completion. The transaction needs to be cleared by competition regulators.

As a result of the deal, Gas Connect and AGGM will strengthen their ties with Grid Level 1 distributors and the divestment comes as proof of Gas Connect’s commitment to establish partnerships with industry operators. According to Stefan Wagenhofer, chairman of AGGM’s supervisory board, the new ownership structure will strengthen further AGGM’s long-standing and successful connections with distribution system operators. AGGM looks forward to working alongside its new partners to tackle the challenges created by the new market model, Wagenhofer added.

AGGM was created in 2002, the year in which Austria liberalised its gas market. In 2003, the company was assigned the role of control manager for the Eastern area. At the start of this month, AGGM was put in charge of Austria’s entire distribution network as per the provisions of the new Gas Market Model Ordinance 2012.

Pearson and Bertelsmann to merge Penguin Books with Random House

British media and education group Pearson Plc (LON:PSON) and German media major Bertelsmann AG (FRA:BTG4) said they had inked an accord to form a joint venture through the amalgamation of their respective English language publishing businesses Penguin Group and Random House Group Ltd.

The deal has to obtain clearances, including regulatory green light, and is seen to be wrapped up in the second half of next year.

Bertelsmann will hold a 53% stake in the venture, which will be dubbed Penguin Random House, with Pearson owning the remaining 47%. The parties are not allowed to offload holdings in the joint venture for three years after finalisation and each of them may require a floatation beginning five years after close. Bertelsmann’s German trade publishing operations are outside the scope of the deal. In addition, Pearson will retain rights on the Penguin brand for the global education markets.

Penguin Random House’s board will consist of five directors picked by Bertelsmann and four by Pearson. The board will be chaired by Penguin’s CEO John Makinson and Random House’s CEO Markus Dohle will lead the new firm in the capacity of CEO.

According to the companies, the transaction will bring together complementary competences, resulting in a boosted platform and enhanced resources to invest in rich content, new digital publishing models and high-growth emerging markets. Random House has a leading position in the US and the UK, while Penguin boasts a robust footprint in developing countries with fast-growth potential, the companies note.

The parties expect to realise synergies from sharing warehousing, distribution, printing, central functions and other resources. In addition, Pearson and Bertelsmann expect the combination to allow for higher organic investment in authors and new product models than the collective investment of the publishing businesses were they to operate independently.

According to the firms, the merged entity will be the leading consumer publisher worldwide.

Random House posted operating profit of EUR185m (USD238.5m) last year on revenues of EUR1.7bn. Penguin’s operating profit and revenues came in at GBP111m (USD178.3m/EUR138.3m) and GBP1bn, respectively, and its assets stood at GBP1bn

Copenhagen Airport to sell 49% in Newcastle Airport operator NIAL

Danish airports operator Copenhagen Airports A/S (CPH:KBHL), also known as Koebenhavns Lufthavne A/S, said it had reached an agreement to offload its 49% stake in British NIAL Group Ltd, the parent of Newcastle International Airport Ltd, to a fund managed by Australian infrastructure manager AMP Capital Investors Ltd.

The deal, which is seen to be completed towards the middle of next month, is in line with Copenhagen Airports’ strategy to zero in on developing and running the airports in the Danish capital, it said. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

The Danish firm’s exit from NIAL Group has been given the go-ahead by the seven municipalities which control the remaining 51% stake in the target. In connection with the deal, NIAL Group will refinance its group facility and seek new debt financing from the seven municipalities and the buyer. Thus, the offload is subject to the new facility accord and the investment accord remaining effective and becoming unconditional, Copenhagen Airports noted.

The Danish firm said the disposal would be reflected on its books in the fourth quarter of the year and would result in a gain affecting profit before tax for the year in the range of DKK750m (USD130m/EUR100.5m) to DKK770m.

RBC Capital Markets and Baker & McKenzie were picked financial and legal advisers on the deal, respectively, the vendor said.

TPG Capital enters race for London Stansted airport — report

US private equity major TPG Capital LP has entered the bidding race for Stansted, the London airport owned by BAA Airports Limited, the Financial Times reported citing sources familiar with the talks.

TPG is competing in the first bidding round against Australian financial services provider Macquarie Group Limited (ASX:MQG) and a consortium made up of The Manchester Airport Group Plc (MAG) and another Australian entity – Industry Funds Management. Stansted, the third biggest airport in London, is estimated to be worth GBP1bn (USD1.6bn/EUR1.2bn), the FT said.

According to several sources, MAG is the contender with the strongest chances of emerging victorious from the battle but TPG has its strengths as well. The US investor has its roots in the aviation industry having been created in the wake of Continental Airlines Inc’s rescue from bankruptcy. TPG has maintained its involvement with the sector and its co-founder David Bonderman is chairman of the board of Ryanair Holdings Plc (LON:RYA). The latter is the holding company for Irish-based budget carrier Ryanair Ltd, which is also Stansted’s top customer.

BAA was forced to put Stansted up for sale in the summer after the failure of its final attempt to reverse a Competition Commission ruling. The operator was instructed in 2009 to sell three airports as part of a decision to break up its monopoly, the FT reminded.

The newspaper went on to add that BAA and its majority owner, Spanish transport infrastructure company Ferrovial SA (MCE:FER), are expected to provide bidders with further details this week. The contestants are expected to receive information regarding the deadline for their second-round bids. According to the article, sufficient airport operating experience will be a prerequisite for making the shortlist.

NBA clears acquisition of Memphis Grizzlies by Pera group

The National Basketball Association (NBA) said its governors board had given its unanimous support to the sale of the Memphis Grizzlies professional basketball franchise to a group of investors headed by businessman Robert Pera.

The agreement was signed in June between Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Pera’s group, without disclosing financial details.

Heisley’s company Hoops LP, which owns and operates Grizzlies, also announced the approval by the NBA to the deal, saying the transaction is expected to be wrapped up shortly. Until then, the parties will abide by the terms of the signed confidentiality agreements, Hoops explained.

Pera founded and leads as CEO California-based communications technology firm Ubiquiti Networks (NASDAQ:UBNT).

Grizzlies was initially located in Vancouver and owned by Arthur Griffiths, who also had the Vancouver Canucks hockey club. The basketball team, which joined the NBA in 1995 as an expansion team, was bought by Chicago businessman Heisley in 2000. The year after that, the new owner relocated the franchise to Tennessee. Now it plays at Memphis’ FedExForum.

The team has taken part in the playoffs in five seasons and finished fourth in the Western Conference in the 2011-2012 season.

In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern welcomed the NBA approval for the deal, saying that the strong local ties of Pera’s group will benefit the team and the community.

Will Mass NHS Job Losses Affect Standards of Care in Hospitals?

Royal Bolton Hospital announced this week that it would be axing roughly 300 posts while Norfolk and Suffolk’s mental health trust stated that up to 500 jobs could be lost as a result of cost-cutting measures.

The NHS has long been a target for cost-cutting measures as part of the coalition government’s wider austerity drive, aimed at cutting the deficit in the UK budget.  The ‘efficiency savings’ outlined for the NHS will equate to about £20bn of cutbacks by 2015.

Under huge pressure to meet savings targets, health trusts across the country are devising cost-cutting plans which often involve significant job losses. However, some experts have suggested that these cost-cutting measures will be to the detriment of the standards of care patients receive.

A number of stories have emerged over the past year that suggests this may be the case. A ward nurse at the Royal College of Nursing’s 2012 annual conference suggest that some nurses were dealing with up to 18 patients at once, while a 2011 poll carried out by The Guardian suggested that 4 out of 5 GPs and hospital doctors felt that patient care had suffered as a result of the cuts.

Over the same period of time some similarly worrying statistics have emerged, with 2012 seeing the amount of people having to wait over 4 hours for treatment in A&E between April and July at it’s highest level since 2004/5 and many patients waiting longer for operations than in the past. The annual cost of medical negligence payouts has also increased year-on-year since the coalition government came to power.

The dedication of Britain’s doctors and nurses to their patients is unquestionable but as cuts start to hit harder, the trend seems to suggest that standards of care will worsen as budgets are trimmed.

With the constant stream of news stories detailing NHS budget cuts, it has been suggested that many patients who suffer from substandard levels of care in hospitals will be put off making medical negligence claims for fear of depriving their local health trust of vital funds.

However, many legal experts and medical negligence solicitors have been quick to try and allay these fears, outlining the fact that wider budget concerns should not affect a patient’s legal right to compensation if their quality of life has suffered as a result of unacceptable standards of care.

French cosmetics firm L’Oreal boosts US presence with Emiliani deal

French cosmetic group L’Oreal (EPA:OR) said it had inked an agreement to take over US hair salons supplier Emiliani Enterprises Inc, in a move to boost its coverage of American hair salons.

The buyer did not reveal the value of the transaction.

With this move, L’Oreal USA’s SalonCentric division extends its distribution in the country to 48 states, in line with the goal of the group’s Professional Products segment to constantly improve service to American hair salons, the buyer said.

Through a network of representatives and sales outlets, New Jersey-based Emiliani Enterprises supplies beauty products to professional hair salons. Its offering includes hair, nail and skin care products, as well as tools and sundries. The company, also known as Emiliani Beauty Supply, has super centres in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. It also provides services to vocational and private beauty schools in New Jersey and New York.

Over 100-year old L’Oreal has a diverse portfolio comprising 27 international brands which cover all forms of beauty, globally. The group employs a staff of 68,900 worldwide and generated revenues of EUR20.3bn (EUR26.3bn) last year. Its business includes segments Cosmetics, The Body Shop and Dermatology. L’Oreal’s hair care products aimed at professional hairdressers are marketed under the Kerastase, Redken, Matrix and L’Oreal Professionnel brands.