Naspers, the South African-based media group, has emerged as a surprise potential buyer of Tradus, the eastern European internet auction group formerly known as QXL/Ricardo.
Although neither party commented on Sunday, it is understood that bid talks with Naspers are advanced and an agreement could be reached before Christmas.
In November Tradus, which had a market capitalisation of about £760m ($1.5bn) at Friday’s close, said it had received a preliminary approach from an unnamed group. Naspers, which owns MultiChoice, the leading South African pay television service, raised almost £500m for acquisitions this year, and recently bought an internet messaging service in Poland, where Tradus has a well-established auction business.
If the deal goes through, it will bring to a close the volatile eight-year history of Tradus/QXL as an independent UK-listed group.
Episodes have included the dotcom boom and bust, which turned the group into one of the best-known UK internet start-ups, as well as long running legal wrangles, failed private equity bids and conflicts among shareholders. A sale would also mean a profits windfall for the group’s two largest institutional investors: Beleggingsmaatschappij Florissant and Izaki. The two funds respectively own 15 and 14 per cent of Tradus.
In 2005 when Florissant itself made a failed bid for what was then QXL/Ricardo, the auction group was valued at less than £30m.
However, the subsequent resolution of a row over ownership of its Polish business opened the way for a revaluation of the group and re-rating of its shares.
Shares, which began the year trading at under 750p, closed on Friday at £16.55. For the last 52-week period, Tradus shares have risen by about 158 per cent.
This revival has been partly helped by speculation that a larger internet auction group such as Ebay or Alibaba.com would buy Tradus as a means of expanding in fast-growing eastern European markets.
Although Naspers has internet assets, it is better known for its television and print interests. It had revenues of R10.5bn (£759m) in the six months to September 30. In October Naspers bought Gadu Gadu, the Polish internet group, in a deal worth up to about £80m and it also has a stake in Mail.ru, a Russian internet group.
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