• Slow shareholder approval keeps PizzaExpress buyout in limbo

LONDON -- The recommended £278 million (U.S. $455 million) takeover of PizzaExpress by the Gondola Express consortium may be at risk following a slower-than-expected return of acceptances from shareholders.

According to the Times of London, although investors representing about two-thirds of the company's shares have accepted the 387 pence-per-share offer (U.S. $6.34), with just two weeks to go, the figure is well below the 90 percent majority required by bankers in a typical private equity-backed deal to declare the bid unconditional.

Bidder Gondola Express is backed by two private equity firms: Capricorn Ventures International, which owns 47 percent of the Nando's chicken restaurant chain; and TDR Capital. Bank of Scotland, part of the HBOS group, will provide the debt funding.

Although analysts expect Bank of Scotland to relax the 90 percent stipulation and declare the bid unconditional at 75 percent, some investors, including Fidelity Investments, which has a stake of almost 10 percent, appear determined to maintain resistance.

Mark Wallace, from Analyst Investment Management, a near 3 percent shareholder, said: "We are still of the opinion that the offer significantly undervalues PizzaExpress. I think it could be a close-run thing and it's difficult to gauge which way it'll go."

A spokesman for Gondola Express told the Times, "This offer needs acceptances in respect of 90 percent of the shares to go unconditional and shareholders should be aware of the potential consequences of the offer lapsing."

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