Deals Comment

Herbert Smith is celebrating after longstanding client Associated British Foods (ABF) signed a deal to buy Littlewoods from the Barclay brothers for £409m. It is understood that ABF was initially part of a consortium which includes retailer New Look. The consortium initially instructed Simmons & Simmons to do the diligence, but once ABP decided to go it alone, the firm was replaced by Herbert Smith.

The Barclay twins, who have a very close relationship with Lovells private equity rainmaker Marco Compagnoni (pictured), instructed the City firm at the start of the year to review the future of the Littlewoods chain. In January, the brothers received at least two unsolicited offers for the stores, one believed to be from Slaughter and May client Asda. The acquisition comprises 120 Littlewoods stores covering high street locations across the UK, but excludes Littlewoods’ home shopping arm. Following completion of the deal, ABF will hold on to some 40 per cent of the current retail selling space, which it will convert into Primark stores.

Third time still unlucky as Lovells misses out on NCP purchaseLovells’ private equity team must be kicking itself after its client Cintra lost out to 3i on the high-profile auction to buy NCP. As first reported on (13 July), 3i, advised by Osborne Clarke corporate partner Alisdair Livingstone, won the auction to buy the UK’s largest commercial car park operator from Cinven for £555m. The acquisition is the largest transaction Osborne Clarke has ever handled for 3i.

Lovells, which is on 3i’s coveted City panel, turned down the mandate to advise 3i on the auction because it had already accepted an instruction to act for Cintra, the European car parks business. This is the third time Lovells has lost the race to advise the buyer of NCP. In 2002 it advised Apax on its unsuccessful bid to buy NCP from Cendant, while in 1997 it acted for PPM Ventures on its failed attempt to acquire the business.

Ashurst advised Cinven, while Travers Smith acted for the management. Senior debt facilities were provided by Mizuho Bank, which was advised by Clifford Chance.