January 22, 2010 8:51 pm

Joe Lewis aims to expand European portfolio

Joe Lewis, the Bahamas-based currency trader engaged in a boardroom battle with pub group Mitchells & Butlers, intends to build stakes in a number of companies across Europe, his UK-based adviser said.

Investment vehicles owned by Mr Lewis have stakes in a handful of stocks: Alphameric, which provides TV pictures to bookmakers’s shops, Probability, the mobile gaming company, and M&B.

But Richard McGuire, who represents Mr Lewis, said the billionaire trader intended to go further. “I would imagine he would have a broader portfolio in any number of stocks,” Mr McGuire said. “We are looking at a number of stocks and a number of opportunities to build that platform.”

Mr Lewis is said to have built-up a stake of as much as 6 per cent in Ladbrokes through contracts for difference. Asked to clarify this, Mr McGuire said: “We don’t have a position beyond 3 per cent in Ladbrokes.”

Mr Lewis’ Tavistock Group, whose headquarters are in Florida, has built up a portfolio of investments over 30 years in property, life sciences, manufacturing, energy and leisure.

But Mr McGuire said there was a “dedicated focus” in expanding into Europe, with the leisure sector being Mr Lewis’ main interest, though property, land and retail are also in his sights.

“We look at companies specifically, rather than from a macro overview such as whether the discretionary spend is going into drinking,” Mr McGuire said. “We may look at bookmakers, for example, because that is attractive, and look at the best bookmaking business we can find.”

In 2008 Mr Lewis had a small stake in M&B but was alerted to the fall-out of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing and the implications for its investors. That brought the M&B stake of property entrepreneur Robert Tchenguiz onto the market, which Mr Lewis then purchased, increasing his holding to 23 per cent.

“Joe was passing through London, and knowing what was going on with Kaupthing we had to take some decisions. Based on price there was limited downside,” Mr McGuire said.

The leisure sector, said Mr McGuire, was a market that Mr Lewis understood very well, adding that he liked to offer his advice to management to help companies grow.

“We have a great relationship with Probability’s management,” he said.

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