A story in yesterday's Sunday Times reporting that N M Rothschild corporate financiers have been asked by Waterstones owner Alexander Mamut to explore a £250m sale of the chain has been described as "sensible enough" by the chain's m.d. James Daunt.
The report cited City sources as saying the bankers are working on "funding options" for Waterstones but also contacting potential buyers, with several private equity firms already studying the business. The ST links the situation to the fortunes of Russia's Otkritie bank where Mamut is one of the largest shareholders, saying a new management team has demanded that some of the wealthy businessmen who own the bank hand over assets to plug a hole in its books.
Commenting to The Bookseller, Waterstones m.d. James Daunt described the Sunday Times report as seeming "a sensible enough story to me, though I think the Otkritie angle is a red herring. He [Mamut] will sell us because that is what he does – buys companies, invests, turns them around and then sells them. If he can get the £200m+ for us he will have done very well!"
Last week Daunt also dismissed any link between Waterstones and the fortunes of the bank, although he did also suggest the bookseller’s Russian owner would be “sensible” to sell the retailer now it is making a profit.
The London Evening Standard first reported on Wednesday (25th October) that Waterstones’ ownership might be affected after Otkritie was taken over by the country’s central bank, Russian Central Bank, suggesting its new owners were asking oligarch shareholders to hand over assets to help it recuperate losses of between $3.3bn and $6.5bn.