Last week we asked Booker CEO Charles Wilson whether the wholesaler’s £63.4m net cash was burning a hole in his pocket. Wilson’s reply was that he was looking at acquisitions that were “right for Booker”.
Just six days later £15.8m of that £63.4m burned right through Wilson’s trousers and into the hands of Metro Group, which sold him its loss-making UK operation Makro Cash & Carry.
As well as the cash, Metro will also take a 9.99% stake in Booker, valuing the deal at around £140m.
That’s some deal considering Booker will gain Makro’s one million customers and assets worth £348.7m, including 30 depots. It will also propel Booker past Palmer & Harvey to become the UK’s biggest wholesaler, with more than 200 depots and sales of £4.7bn.
Although the deal will send shockwaves around the wholesale sector, it shouldn’t, in truth, be too much of a surprise. Booker and Makro first tried to carve out a deal back in 2000 - and there’s been talk for some time that Makro was the target of rivals. Think Bestway in 2008 and P&H in 2010.
But it will be no easy ride. Makro has been loss-making for a number of years. In fact, figures released this morning show the wholesaler’s pre-tax losses widened from £12.5m in 2010 to an eye-watering £63.2m in 2011. And sales continued to slide - from £818m last year to £787.4m.
But analysts believe Booker can pull it off. “Makro has been under-performing for some years, but Booker management has proven skills in addressing such trading issues, turning its own revenue trends around in 2006,” said Nicola Mallard from Investec. “With another £800m on the top line, this will produce a stronger business with enhanced growth prospects.”
With Wilson insisting that today’s news won’t lead to mass departures, hopefully Makro’s long-suffering staff won’t have to keep a watchful eye on the fire escapes.