Waterstone's founder 'wants to buy back chain'

The founder of British book chain Waterstone’s is considering launching a bid to buy back the troubled retailer, it was reported today.

Tim Waterstone – who opened the first shop in 1982 – is understood to be poised to take the business private if its current owner HMV bows to shareholder pressure to offload the group, according to The Observer newspaper.

Waterstone’s sales and profits have tumbled in recent years, with its latest annual operating profits collapsing from £10m (€11.9m) to £2.8m (€3.3m) after poor sales through the key autumn and Christmas season.

Like-for-like Waterstone’s sales sank 6.2% in the year to April 28, prompting the group to draft in new management in January.

Parent firm HMV will update on trading across the group on Thursday, but rebel shareholders have reportedly pushed for a sale of Waterstone’s in recent weeks.

Mr Waterstone is believed to be keen to step in should HMV decide to dispose of the book shops and is said to have already lined up funding from backers.

He opened the first Waterstone’s in Old Brompton Road, London, 28 years ago. There are now more than 300 outlets across the UK.

He sold the group to WH Smith in the early 1990s, with the firm sold again to HMV in 1998 for £300m (€359m).

Mr Waterstone has attempted to buy back the chain before – for £280m (€335m) in 2006 – but could not agree terms of a takeover.

He was not immediately available for comment.

Analysts at Nomura expect HMV to reveal ongoing sales pressure at Waterstone’s in this week’s trading update, although they believe the decline eased to 4% in the first quarter from 4.8% in the previous three months.

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