Lovells clinches Autobar buy in first deal for Charterhouse

Lovells has closed its first deal for private equity house Charterhouse Development Capital in its hard-fought and successful battle for control of Dutch packaging and vending machine group Autobar.

The auction, believed to have started in January, finally reached a climax more than two weeks ago, when Lovells’ client was granted exclusivity by the sellers The Kuwait Investment Group, seeing off the final contender BC Partners, represented by long-time advisor Dickson Minto.

At the start of the auction, six bidders were in the running, including private equity houses Permira, Clayton Dubilier Rice, South African industrial group Bidvest and FTSE 100 support services company Bunzl.

By March, only Charterhouse, BC Partners and Bunzl were left, but by the end of the month Bunzl had also pulled out.

The transaction is a boost to Lovells, which last year nearly pulled off its first-ever deal for Charterhouse when the private equity group put wax museum operator Tussauds Group up for sale in December.

However, the selloff was shelved after potential buyers, including BC Partners and PAI Partners, submitted bids below the £900m price tag Charterhouse had attached to the business.

Although Autobar, which is being purchased for an estimated €800m (£536.4m), is based in Middlesex, it operates in several countries, culminating in the sale spanning 15 jurisdictions. In its most recent financials for the year ended 31 March 2003, it reported £118m in pre-tax profits on turnover of £1.2bn.

The countdown to exclusivity saw Lovells private equity partner Derek Baird, who led the team, pitted against his former firm Dickson Minto, which he left in 2001. Financing for Charterhouse’s bid was provided by BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Bank of Scotland, with legal advice by Clifford Chance. Linklaters represented The Kuwait Investment Group, the European investment arm of the Kuwaiti government.

According to reports, the investment group once owned around £45bn worth of assets, but has been divesting its portfolio of UK businesses for some time.