MWB delays property sell-offs

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MWB Group, the property company, has postponed the sale of its hotels, retail and offices divisions owing to difficult conditions in the market for such assets.

The company, which owns hotel group Malmaison as well as London upmarket retailer Liberty, on Friday said it would extend the sales process until the end of 2010.

“The board recognises that the current economic climate and credit crunch makes their sale by the end of 2008 less likely to be achieved at prices reflecting their current financial success and strong brand values,” said the company.

The property group, run by entrepreneur Richard Balfour-Lynn, said that it would sell these businesses as soon as market conditions recovered sufficiently to realise full shareholder value. Lazard continues to oversee the sale.

MWB has been trying to dispose of the three business units since 2002 but has so far failed to achieve a satisfactory price through sale, or get its plans for a real estate investment trust off the ground last year.

MWB tried to float off its hotel-based assets last year in a vehicle called Vector, but the attempt failed to attract enough interest from investors.

The company then looked for a £700m ($1.4m) trade sale of the business, comprising the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin hotel chains, but again failed to attract sufficient interest from buyers as the acquisitions market dried up last summer.

On Friday, MWB said that property sales totalling more than £600m had been achieved at prices well in excess of book values, however. MWB added that all three business units had performed well since the beginning of the year.

The Malmaison Group opened five new hotels last year, and three Hotel du Vins and a further Malmaison are set to open this year, taking the total number of operating properties to 26. Property values in the group were £529m at December 2007.

MWB Business Exchange, a provider of flexible office space, reported a 20 per cent increase in enquiry levels over the past year.

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