News In brief

0Toys R US, the US toy retailer, may spin off its European operations in a sale to a private equity buyer. Reports have put the entire chain in play, with Debenhams’ owner, CVC, mooted as a possible bidder. If the business is sold as a going concern, the estimated price tag is around US$3bn to US$4bn, but a sale of the European business only would emerge at around US$1bn. Like many other retailers, Toys R Us has come under pressure from discounters and supermarkets encroaching on its core territory.

Joint bookrunners JP Morgan, Bank of America, CSFB and Goldman Sachs announced the long awaited €1.695bn package to help finance the acquisition of VNU World Directories by Apax and Cinven last week. As well as a €545m bond and a €1.075bn senior loan, the deal will include €100m in PIK notes to be sold to a small group of investors. Apax and Cinven acquired the Dutch information and media business for €2.075bn in September.

PIK notes were popular during the late 1990s and early this decade. Some of the earliest PIK deals were TMT build-out financings such as Telewest and Jazztel. Historically, however, demand for PIK notes in Europe has been slim at best, and issuers have been forced to take their deals to the US market, where there is a deeper pool of capital.

CVC is also touted as a potential bidder for Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. A takeover approach could be worth up to £1bn. Mersey Docks confirmed it had received a takeover approach, which caused its share price to increase by 10%. The company has a substantial property portfolio, although it is possible that other firms might enter the fray.

Charterhouse has extended its ownership of TDF, the French media group it bought in 2002. France Telecom has sold its remaining 36% stake in the group. The acquisition will give Charterhouse, which has just acquired travel and insurance group Saga, a 70% share in the business along with CDC.

Increased interest in China is evident. Schroders, the UK fund manager, is to form a joint venture to develop and distribute new investment products. SovGem, the UK based equity finance house, has been established to invest in private Chinese companies with the potential to go public in a few years time. It has an exclusive arrangement with Benchmark, the Chinese investment bank.

Doughty Hanson’s

head of real estate Marc Mogull may be planning

to leave the firm. This follows two other departures from the real estate group and comes just ahead of plans for a second real estate fund. Doughty Hanson closed its first real estate fund at US$632m. A second real estate fund is expected at some point in 2005. Other departures at Doughty have included Paolo Sangiotta, head of real estate investments in Italy, as well as principal James Max, who was based in London.

0Unconfirmed reports suggest that a group

of private equity players are considering a jumbo bid for Auna or its mobile unit Amena. Auna rejected a bid from

CVC, Apax and Blackstone for the mobile unit earlier this year.

That was touted at around €8bn. These

firms are understood to be part of the consortium preparing a renewed offer. The latest grouping might also include Carlyle. Auna is a Spanish telecom operator that competes with Telefonica, while Amena is the country’s number three mobile operator.