11 January 2002

Northampton under threat

By Simon Wragg

NORTHAMPTON Auctions, the market that took a significant slice of livestock sales resulting from the controversial closure of Midland Marts at Banbury, is facing an uncertain future.

According to managing director Keith Rose the mart must find between £1.5 and £2.5m from new investors or face the prospect of closure.

The move comes after a handful of shareholders – with a combined stake worth about 50% of the business equity – registered an intention to cash in their holdings, he claimed.

"There is some concern over the long-term viability of the market. We have incurred a significant loss of money over the past 11 months that cannot be sustained. As a result, some shareholders want to look at the option of cashing in holdings."

A meeting of clients last Fri, Jan 4, brought forward a good number of potential investors, said Mr Rose. But it could take at least 10 days to see whether the initial level of interest materialises into firm bids for shares.

The value of shares has not been disclosed. According to the company, one reckoner – using the development value of the markets 5.1ha (12.7-acre) site, said to be worth £3.8m – values shares at £5.71 each for the 665,000 certificates issued.

"The land value is not the be-all and end-all of the decision. There are serious concerns over the viability of trading as a livestock auction.

"If the management allowed the business to trade at a loss indefinitely we would rightly be shot by shareholders. We have to face up to facts. Questions have to be asked," said Mr Rose.

Northampton Auctions site opened five years ago. It benefited from attracting a number of vendors and buyers from Banbury after rescheduling sale days after Midland Marts closed in June 1998.

Although the announcement could jolt producers back into supporting markets – expected to begin re-opening in late February – closure of Northampton would leave a significant void in the provision of live auctions in the Midlands.

As well as the sizeable store and breeding sales of sheep and cattle, the market runs one of the last remaining key pig auctions.

"There will be an AGM on Jan 28 to review the situation. I hope we survive. I have another 10 years before I retire and I want to continue working for Northanmpton Auctions," said Mr Rose. &#42