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Northern Rock CEO Steps Down

Ailing British bank Northern Rock said Chief Executive Adam Applegarth had quit and it had streamlined its board as two suitors confirmed they had made proposals to buy or revive the bank and repay its loans.

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Applegarth will stay to oversee the new phase of a strategic review that is due to end by February, the bank said.

Acceptance of Applegarth's resignation and the removal of seven other board members came as at least four bidders were expected to submit plans to take over or revive Northern Rock by a Friday deadline.

A consortium led by Richard Branson's Virgin Group said it planned to immediately repay "a significant proportion" of a loan from the Bank of England (BoE) - currently over 20 billion - as it sought to play down concern the auction could be delayed or complicated by politics.

Virgin said "a clear timeline is envisaged for full repayment of the borrowings and the release of HMT's (the Treasury's) guarantees" on loans from the central bank to Northern Rock in the last two months.

Board Shakeup

Olivant, a team led by veteren troubleshooter Luqman Arnold, said it had made a detailed proposal to stabilise the bank as a viable business and restore its finances.

It plans the "prompt repayment" of loans from the BoE and would subscribe for a minority stake in the company.

Northern Rock said it had streamlined its board "to assist a smooth and rapid decision making process" regarding its strategic review.

David Baker, Keith Currie and Andy Kuipers are standing down as directors but will remain at the bank, while Derek Wanless, Nichola Pease, Adam Fenwick and Rosemary Radcliffe will retire as non-executive directors.

John Devaney, chairman of National Air Traffic Services and UK telecoms firm Telent Plc, and Simon Laffin, an adviser to CVC Capital, will join the board.

Strategy Architect

Bryan Sanderson, who was brought in as the bank's chairman last month, said Applegarth's participation in the review was important "due to his extensive knowledge of the business."

Applegarth, 45, has been CEO since 2001 and was the architect of Northern Rock's strategy to rely on wholesale markets for three-quarters of its funding and aggressively lend in a booming housing market.

That strategy came unstuck this summer when liquidity dried up in financial markets and Northern Rock could not secure funds, prompting it to seek emergency loans from the Bank of England from Sept. 14.

News of the funding crisis sparked the first run on the deposits of a major British bank for over 150 years.

Northern Rock is estimated to have since borrowed between 20 billion and 25 billion pounds from the central bank, based on BoE data and analyst estimates.

Low-Priced Offers

That loan, and whether the Treasury will extend the funding line beyond February, is a key issue for potential suitors as borrowing in financial markets looks likely to remain expensive against a difficult credit market backdrop.

U.S. private equity firms JC Flowers and Cerberus are also expected to submit proposals.

Friday's Financial Times said between six and eight proposals were expected to be pitched. Most would be priced aggressively low, it said.

Advisers running the auction sent an information memorandum to interest parties. There was interest from about 50 parties and between 10 and 20 are believed to have been sent the memorandum, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Friday's deadline is regarded as informal, and proposals could still be submitted over the weekend or early next week.

Shares Hammered

Virgin confirmed that under its proposal Northern Rock would continue as a going concern and a listed entity, rebranded as Virgin. Full details remained confidential, it said.

The UK Shareholders Association, a lobby group for small investors, said the best option would be an attempt to revive the bank under new management.

It slammed any scenario whereby the government would force the sale of all or parts of the bank while continuing to provide funding to bidders.

Northern Rock shares fell 1.6 percent on Friday to 132.6 pence, valuing the bank at 560 million pounds. The shares are down 80 percent since the bank sought Bank of England help.

Northern Rock is being advised by Merrill Lynch , Citigroup and Blackstone .