Over the years we have come across numerous employers operating pension schemes where the shareholders’ economic interest in the sponsor is completely dwarfed by the level of the pension fund deficit.
Jessops’ business has just been sold for £100,000 to a new company owned by HSBC (47%) the pension fund trustees (33%) and an employee benefit trust (20%). It will be interesting to see if more detail emerges as to how this end position was reached.
We know that HSBC forgave £34 million for its equity stake in the Newco but the announcement does not make clear what is happening with the pension fund and if it is winding-up or continuing on a going concern basis? The pension scheme is relatively small for a company employing 2000 people (which I guess reflects the retail sector) with assets of about £20m at the end of last year.
It seems quite possible the equity stakes are academic and there as “anti-embarrassment” with the whole of the real economic interest with HSBC. There was no detail in the announcement of the funding of Newco. We won’t know this until more details emerge.
2000 jobs preserved though which is clearly good news. There’ll undoubtedly be quite a few more announcements of pension funds taking equity stakes over the next couple of years. I watch with interest.
For more information on Scheme restructures contact Brian Spence.