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April 6, 2008

Earls Court deal denied

This afternoon’s story in the Evening Standard titled ‘Landmark Earls Court is bought in £420m deal’ was immediately denied by Commercial Director, Nigel Nathan.

Although rumours of a sale have hovered over the iconic exhibition and conference venues group since being put up for sale a year ago, it appears that a deal is yet to be concluded. The Standard claimed that TargetFollow, a development and investment company, had secured the venues just two and a half years after the Morris family sold it to St James Capital for £250 million. If the deal does reach a conclusion, then after disposing of Clarion Events for £45 million, St James Capital (the development vehicle owned by Anthony Lyons and Simon Conway) could walk away with over £200 million clear profit. This equates to a mere £250,000 daily rate of return since acquisition, with the interest on the interim debt of £205 million presumably funded out of the £12 million a year operating profit of the venues (including those of The Brewery, where Lyons performed a neat back-to-back sale and leaseback facilitating circa £1 million of additional operating profit from the City-based conference facility).

That could make Lyons iconic in East London as well as West.

TargetFollow, led by Ardeshir Naghshineh, owns Centre Point in the West End of London. The Centre Point location itself has also been the subject of recent speculation for a new London Convention Centre and will add to the conviction that TargetFollow is in the business of riding the live communications wave that is gathering pace across the marketing and communications sector in the UK. If live media real estate continues to gain value at that sort of multiple (£13 million operating profit = £420 million capitalisation), then private and institutional investors are bound to turn their attention towards ExCeL as it continues to impress with plenty more scope for financial and facilities growth, planning for its next phase of development likely to be a shoe-in, and Olympics status assured.

Lyons faced intense criticism from within the UK exhibitions community because of his open admission that the acquisition of Earls Court and Olympia was a property-play and not born out of his passion for live events. If the deal does goes through, then no doubt he’ll enjoy funding a few postcards out of his 60% to those very same critics who will do well to match the plaudits he’ll enjoy from the City.

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