H&T 'ponders Albemarle & Bond bid'

Pawnbroker H&T is considering snapping up struggling rival Albemarle & Bond to create a chain with nearly 400 high street stores, according to a report.

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Pawnbroker H&T is considering acquiring rival Albemarle & Bond

Pawnbroker H&T is considering snapping up struggling rival Albemarle & Bond to create a chain with nearly 400 high street stores, according to a report.

H&T is understood to be one of a number of trade and financial buyers that have formally lodged interest in buying Albemarle, which put itself up for sale last week as it battles to keep within lending limits after plunging gold prices and competition has left it nursing losses.

Reading-based group Albemarle , which includes Herbert Brown jewellery and pawnbroking stores, recently admitted it had resorted to melting down gold jewellery stocks to raise cash.

A takeover by H&T would bring together Britain's two largest pawnbrokers.

But H&T faces competition from other potential bidders, including Albemarle's biggest shareholder EZ Corp, the US pawnbroking giant, as well as New York vulture fund Apollo Global Management, according to The Sunday Times.

Albemarle has hired Canaccord Genuity to advise on the sale process and has been granted dispensation from the UK Takeover Panel, which means bidders do not have to be publicly identified and the typical 28-day takeover offer deadline is also waived.

Shareholders were warned by analysts last week that they were likely to see little value given to the stock from any sale, having already suffered a more than 90% plunge in the share price in the past year.

Albemarle recently warned over profits for the second time in as many months and said further declines in the price of gold would leave it with losses in the first five months of its financial year, telling shareholders market expectations for the current year were ''significantly more optimistic'' than its own.

It also saw a mass exodus of board directors, with f ive of its six non-executives quitting with immediate effect last week - leaving chairman and former chief executive Greville Nicholls as the only remaining non-executive at the pawnbroker.

The firm remains in talks with its lenders after it was given a three-month reprieve at the end of October to patch up its overstretched finances.

It revealed that measures taken to remain within its £53.5 million borrowing limit included a clampdown on lending through its Speedloan and online arm, as well as a ''programme of exceptional smelting'' of gold items bought by its stores.

H&T was not immediately available for comment.