• Blackstone, a US private equity firm, could be second time lucky following rumours that it is a potential bidder for a stake in Wind, Italy’s number two fixed-line phone operator, two years after it lost out on the business to Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. It is rumoured that Sawiris is considering selling a 20% to 30% stake in Wind, which he bought in 2005 for €12.2bn through his Weather Investments Spa vehicle. The stake is expected to be valued at between €1.5bn and €2bn. According to sources at the time, Blackstone bid approximately €11.6bn for Wind. Apax Partners, CVC Capital Partners and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts were also believed to have pursued the business before being trumped by Sawiris.
• Eric Nicoli, chief executive of EMI Group and EMI Music, which was bought recently by UK private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners, is to step down after the British music group de-lists from the London Stock Exchange. EMI said in a statement that Nicoli has agreed to step down in advance of the de-listing, due to take place on or around 18 September. In addition, Martin Stewart, chief financial officer of EMI Group and EMI Music, has resigned as director of EMI. Chris Roling, managing director at Terra Firma, has been appointed as COO of EMI Group and CFO of both EMI Group and EMI Music. Ashley Unwin, also a Terra Firma MD, has been appointed as director of business transformation for both groups. A new supervisory board has been implemented, with Terra Firma head Guy Hands chairing. The board will be joined by other Terra Firma executives, including Julie Williamson, a managing director, who will focus on EMI’s strategic business relationship. Reports suggest that Nicoli wants to remain at EMI as head of the recorded music business, but other sources suggest that he will be replaced by former Warner Music chief Roger Ames.
Premier Research has said that “certain of its executive management team have made a very preliminary approach to the board seeking permission to explore the possibility of making an offer for the company”. The AIM-listed company carries out clinical trials of drugs on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. It has grown rapidly since joining AIM in November 2004, via a £15m placing sponsored by Evolution at 40p a share. Much of this growth has come through acquisitions. The company has completed six deals worth a total of US$113.4m. Most recently it bought D-Target and ARS on July 13 for US$36.3m. The latest acquisitions were partly funded by fresh debt facilities. This saw the company take on total borrowings of £30.6m (US$61.2m) with a further £8m (US$16m) available if required. However, such a level of indebtedness might make a leveraged buyout hard to carry out. Investors have recently been concerned about the company’s ability to manage its growth, with large amounts of debts, £19.6m at the end of January, uncollected from customers. Such concerns, amongst other issues, have pushed Premier’s shares down 65% since the start of the year to 99p. This morning, they sparked up 10.75p, or 10.8%, to 111p. That values the company at £66.5m (US$133m).Premier has formed an “independent committee of the board” to consider any proposal if made. However, after a series of board resignations, just one of the company’s five directors is non-executive at present, Stephen Harris.Peter Fellner has been appointed non-executive chairman but was not scheduled to take up his position until September 1. It is unclear if he will still be required.Chief executive Simon Yaxley has a 5.4% stake in the company.