ABS a.b.c. learning centres limited

busy bees

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    The ownership of Busy Bees, Britain’s biggest childcare group, hung in the balance last night as its Australian parent company faced being broken up and sold.

    ABC Learning Centres signalled possible asset sales to help it to cut debt in a desperate effort to restore investor confidence after the collapse of its share price on Tuesday.

    Private equity groups are thought to be among the most likely buyers, potentially raising the prospect of the controversial sector looking after the welfare and education of thousands of British toddlers.

    Busy Bees, which ABC acquired in December 2006 for £70 million, is the largest childcare provider in the UK, with 133 nurseries. ABC consolidated its foothold in Britain last August with the purchase of Leapfrog Nurseries for £31.2 million.
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    * Shares in ABC Learning plunge 43 per cent

    The company, which has appointed Goldman Sachs JBWere to deal with expressions of interest, is believed to have received at least one proposal relating to a particular division – Australia/New Zealand, the United States or Britain – but no approach for the entire company.

    ABC’s share price has been hammered by concerns surrounding its debt, which has soared from A$110 million (£52 million) in June 2006 to A$1.67 billion last December as the company expanded to 2,300 centres across four countries. ABN Amro has valued the Australia/New Zealand business at A$1.9 billion, the American division at A$1.6 billion and the British operation at A$295 million.
 
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