Pawnbroker suffers debt setback

Albemarle & BondAttempts by Britain's second biggest pawnbroker to shore up its finances have been dealt a blow after it failed to secure a £35 million cash injection.

Albemarle & Bond said it had not been able to conclude negotiations with its biggest shareholder over a deeply-discounted rights issue, which it needs in order to repair its balance sheet.

The company is now focused on talks with its lenders after they agreed a month's breathing space on covenant tests due on the £51 million debt pile. Albemarle said the deferral agreement included the appointment of a chief restructuring officer.

Shares in Reading-based Albemarle slumped by a third today and have now dropped by around 80% over the last year.

Andrew Watson, an analyst at N+1 Singer, said the latest developments placed the company in a "precarious position".

He added: "Albemarle now has a reduced lending facility and faces the prospect of a near-term restructuring approaching a covenant test at the end of this month. We believe that this could result in store closures and staff reduction."

The company has been slashing costs, including through the closure of 33 pop-up gold buying stores, as it looks to overcome the impact of the sliding gold price on its finances.

The group, which had around 230 stores, has recently appointed a new chief executive in Chris Gillespie from doorstep lender Provident Financial.

But the outcome of four months of talks with Texas-based EZCORP, its biggest shareholder, over underwriting the £35 million cash call failed to win the backing of Albemarle's board.

With the test of its banking covenants now delayed until October 30, Albermarle said it was focusing its efforts on "constructive discussions with the banks to explore all possible options to remedy potential covenant breaches later in the current financial year."

The price of gold has plunged by about a third over the past two years, squeezing the group's profitability and leaving it at ''high risk'' of breaching banking covenants.

Albemarle's pop-up stores, which bought jewellery for cash, are no longer profitable.