AssetCo crisis: Shares in doldrums as investors lose faith

John Shannon - forced to stand down. Pic courtesy Belfast Telegraph

 Assetco, the badly bruised owner of London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines, is still in trouble despite seeing off winding up petitions from Revenue and Customs and law firm, Nabarros, for millions of pounds.

Shareholders hoping to make a quick buck on a rebound have instead seen their investments fall below 10p a share despite attempts by stockbrokers to recommend the company as a strong buy. Shares have fallen to just 8.20p – the lowest so far.

One commented today:

” I remember posting only a few weeks ago that IMO 8.5p would be a fair price for these shares, but now I’m not so sure. Although I am sure that all the lackies at AssetCo will be posting on hear(Sic) to give all sorts of reasons why this is just another temporary blip and that soon the price will rocket on up! When will this day come? Never in my opinion”

However there are other disturbing signs in the wind – offshore investors like Bermuda Bank have been buying in – and Verdes Management, a company turn round specialist, are demanding a more ruthless management team.

 Recently Rock Nominess Ltd- a company formerly owned by Lord Ashcroft- but now owned by City stockbrokers, Sir Charles Stanley, has increased  its shareholding. The company’s  chair is Sir David Howard, former Mayor of the City of London, obviously hoping for a long term gain.

 Previous updates:

March 25: John Shannon, chief executive of AssetCo, has resigned after being defeated by other directors over the massive dilution of its shares  caused by the  placing to pay off debts and a huge Revenue tax bill. He still has a subsantial shareholding.

This followed two days of high drama with Shannon derailing the company’s meeting by refusing to vote for the extra cash, approaching Arcapita a Bahrain bank to invest, and then being forced by a court injunction brought by other directors  to let the £26m bail out through a share placing go through.

Shareholders are divided about this. Discussion on two investment sites can be shows this  and the man in charge of Assetco’s industrial relations is offering advice to investors, showing how nervous they are . See http://bit.ly/g6Qiqq and http://bit.ly/f2YTY7

March 18: Desperate AssetCo has had to raise another £10m -making £26m in all- from shareholders in a rush to pay creditors demanding their money in case it goes bust. Shareholders worried- London fire brigade should be.  Earlier update:since writing this it is reported that creditors will face delays in payments because of the debt crisis hitting the firm. See http://bit.ly/hxmAUh

The extraordinary crisis surrounding AssetCo, the private company which owns and maintains London and Lincolnshire’s fire engines, has taken a dramatic new turn with the decision of its three main directors to quit their posts.

John Shannon, the company’s founder and chief executive; Tim Wighton, chairman, and Australian Scott Brown, the recently appointed chief financial officer, are all standing down as part of a desperate move to regain public confidence in the company.

 The company has been forced to raise £16m from the stock market to reschedule its debts and fight a winding up order from Revenue and Customs after failing to pay a £4m-£8m demand for tax.

The company’s stockbrokers, Arden Partners, are confident that they will raise the cash – but it seems to have come at the price of  John Shannon losing complete control of the company that he founded. Only weeks ago he and his top directors were thinking they could become multi-millionaires by selling off the firm on the back of the London fire dispute and fire minister Bob Neill’s promotion of private companies to take over  the ownership and maintennace of fire engines across England.

Cadogan PR ,who handle the company’s financial press, confirmed the directors were going. They pointed out that Tim Wightman, the chairman, would have stood down at the annual meeting but was leaving early. John Shannon, who has a huge stake in the company will keep his big shareholding, guarantee the company’s multi-million pound overdraft, and probably stay as a  director. They did not know what Mr Brown intended to do. All are likely to be replaced by outsiders.

Shareholders , hoping to make a fast buck from privatisation contracts, are now seeing a massive dilution in their holdings and are speculating on the Interactive Investor website whether they are going to have to pay out lots of cash to the outgoing directors. They have now seen an amazing 80 per cent drop in the company’s share price and have no chance of it going back to its original high because of the massive dilution of shares.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said today:
“This has the feel of a company in meltdown.  But this is not any old company suffering from the economic climate.  Because of the contracts it has obtained from the London and Lincolnshire fire authorities, every person in London and in Lincolnshire depends for their safety on the health of this company.  If AssetCo goes down, the banks own all our fire engines.  Even if the fire authorities manage to buy the fire engines back, there will be no one to maintain them.
“All this unnecessary danger stems from a bit of political dogma which says that there is nothing the public sector can do which the private sector cannot do better.  We had no concerns about the maintenance of the fire engines while the fire authorities did the job themselves.”

He called for fire authorities to take back the maintenance of the engines. London Fire Brigade are unlikely to do this and Brian Coleman, the Tory chair, must be very upset to see John Shannon stand down.  No more wining and dining from him in Westminster or free £350 Harvey Nicks Christmas hampers.

3 thoughts on “AssetCo crisis: Shares in doldrums as investors lose faith

  1. As someone who had to drive and operate assetco’s fire engines it comes as no surprise that this company are in trouble. A real two bob outfit, who even when they were’nt in financial meltdown were not up to the job. When the fleet was owned and maintained by the London Fire Brigade the vehicles were in much better condition and spent a lot less time off the road. Put the appliances back into the control of the Fire Authority a nd everyone will be a lot safer

    • You obviously never experienced having to take a whole crew up to Ruislip Workshops to pick up a spare machine then have to wait around for hours because it was either not ready, not satisfactory or was around the mechanics tea break. Like others, I am not happy with the company’s profit making route of strike breaking but when they took over the maintenance of the fleet we had replacement deliveries within the hour, particularly with off the run defects. Hand overs of equipped machines negating the need for a full re-stow and appliances that didn’t need a complete clean off. Oh plus no more crews topping up batteries and the like.

      • I think it is a shame that profit is put before service. (Not just in the fire service!!!) Reading some of the previous comments of course it was inconvenient to take a whole crew to Ruislip workshops but “spares” were often dotted around at strategic locations negating this.Appliances often turn up dirty with low fuel levels. If appliances were owned by the Bigade again their would I belive be more pride in their upkeep resulting in less “off the run defects” and benfit all.

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