Ashurst advises competitors on Saga auction

Ashurst landed pole position on the hotly contested auction of Saga, the financial services and travel provider for the over 50s, by advising competing consortia.

The City firm advised both Bank of Scotland and Lehman Brothers, which are providing financing to Platinum 400, the winning acquisition vehicle of the management team, which is supported by Charterhouse Capital Partners.

Ashurst also advised a rival bidder, a consortium comprising Candover, JPMorgan Partners and Hg Capital.

The debt element is a crucial part of Charterhouse’s bid. It is understood that the private equity house has set a new record for Europe’s most highly-geared deal and its debt package is reported to have exceeded that of the Candover consortium.

An Ashurst spokesperson said: “It’s the market practice for law firms to act for a bank lending to one consortium, which will have its own law firm, and the sponsors in a different consortium.”

Platinum agreed to buy Saga for £1.35bn on 4 October following a long-running auction involving bids from a number of other private equity investors. It is understood that Clifford Chance advised a consortium comprising BC Partners, CVC Capital and Permira, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer acted on a joint bid by Apax and Cinven.

The auction was run on a dual track with a proposed IPO and a listing of Saga shares on the London Stock Exchange. However, the IPO route was abandoned in favour of a private sale a week before Saga signed a deal with Charterhouse.

Ben Ward, the Herbert Smith corporate partner who led the separate teams advising longstanding client de Haan on the auction and the proposed IPO, said: “It’s extremely unusual to run a dual track process until the end. Normally the selling shareholders decide which route will achieve the best exit strategy earlier in the process.”

Corporate finance boutique Dickson Minto acted for Charterhouse and Travers Smith Braithwaite advised the management. Meanwhile, Withers acted for the de Haan’s family trusts.