Apax Mulls Sale Of British Courier Marken

Target: Marken

Price: Less than $940 million

Sponsor: Apax Partners

Financial Adviser: Creditors: Rothschild; sponsor: Houlihan Lokey

Apax Partners is preparing a possible sale of its troubled British medical courier Marken as talks with lenders stalled over a fix of a loan covenant breach, sister news service Reuters reported. Apax, which bought the business only two and a half years ago, started discussions with Marken’s lenders in January as the company breached its December loan covenants due to a deterioration in performance.

Lenders, which include Lloyds Banking Group, were willing to reset the covenants in exchange for around £100 million ($157.16 million) of new equity from Apax. However, Apax—which is currently raising a new private equity fund—is willing to put only around £50 million on the table. No agreement has been reached yet on the equity injection and hence Apax is exploring alternative options for the business, including a potential sale.

Apax is unlikely to recoup all of its roughly £600 million equity investment in Marken if it sells the business, banking sources said. Marken is performing to plan, one of the sources emphasized, but its value has dropped since Apax bought it for £975 million in December 2009, others said. Marken and Apax declined to comment.

Lloyds underwrote £365 million of debt in January 2010 to back Apax’s buyout of Marken and the loans were syndicated to institutional loan investors. A number of lenders have sold their position in Marken debt at a discount to hedge funds specializing in distressed debt situations, although only a small percentage of the overall debt has traded, the sources said.

Bids in Marken loans have dropped to 65.8 percent of face value in May in secondary market trading from 85 percent in January, according to Thomson Reuters LPC data. Marken’s creditors are being advised by restructuring specialist Rothschild, while Houlihan Lokey is advising Apax.

The buyout of Marken reopened the LBO market in December 2009 after deal-making collapsed following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Apax is viewed as having overpaid for the business after trumping a bid by rival buyout firm Hellman & Friedman, banking sources said.

Marken ships vaccines and blood for clinical trials around the world. Since its buyout, it has seen its performance deteriorate due to competition from other logistics groups and lower levels of research and development from large pharma groups.

(Isabell Witt is a correspondent for Reuters in London.)