UBS CapitalScores First French Deal

A year after opening its Paris operation, UBS Capital, the private equity arm of UBS, completed its first direct investment in France. UBS Capital in October acquired a majority stake in Ardial, a leading French cash-in-transit and security group, for an undisclosed sum. Ardial, which has 2,300 employees, forecasts sales of close to FFr 1 billion (ecu 152 million) in 1998; since the typical acquisition multiple for companies in Ardial’s sector is slightly less than one times sales, the deal value is believed to be in excess of FFr 900 million.

As well as offering customised solutions for handling cash-in-transit and valuable goods, Ardial provides cash processing services to financial institutions that outsource this part of their operations and undertakes maintenance services for ATMs and other automatic dispensing machines. One of a small number of cheque-handling specialists in its domestic market, Ardial has also diversified into document archiving and handling systems. Ardial provides nationwide coverage in France, with 70 operating centres, 440 armoured vans and 560 light vehicles. The group’s clients include the French post office La Poste, Credit Agricole, Societe Generale, Caisses d’Epargne, Credit Mutuel, Groupe Casino, Total, France’s national railways and telecommunications bodies, government bodies and local authorities.

The group is also one of France’s market leaders in sensitive site security, with some 20,000 sites under surveillance, and offers a wide range of risk management services including security audits and system design, guarding services and the installation and maintenance of electronic surveillance systems.

Prior to the deal, Ardial was jointly owned by Sofipost and Servicam, the holding companies of La Poste and the Credit Agricole group. Sofipost and Servicam each now hold a 16.78% stake in EUROfides, the new Ardial group holding company, alongside UBS Capital, with 66.43%.

PRICOA provided acquisition debt in the form of a mezzanine tranche that made up approximately one fifth of the total funding. UBS Capital is currently in the process of refinancing Ardial’s operating debt with the company’s existing banks.

Herve Marion, head of UBS Capital’s Paris team, said the deal was conservatively structured, with a strong layer of equity. He added that Ardial would form platform for further acquisitions in the highly fragmented cash-in-transit and security sector, both within and outside France. UBS Capital expects to announce the first such acquisition before the end of 1998.

Following the merger last summer of Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC), SBC’s private equity activities were absorbed into UBS’s private equity arm to form UBS Capital. The combined group has made private equity investments totalling “several billion” Swiss francs in more than 50 European companies.