• PizzaExpress sets Feb. 17 buyout bid deadline

LONDON -- Potential bidders for PizzaExpress have been given until Feb. 17, to lodge final offers to purchase the company.

According to the Times of London, analysts are tipping their hats to PizzaExpress' management team, led by chief executive David Page, as the most likely winner. The group has secured backing from PAI Management, a French private equity firm, for an estimated buyout price of up to 350p (U.S. $5.65) a share, equivalent to £251 million (U.S. $405 million).

However, according to the Times report, some believe PAI is struggling to raise the funds.

Other potential bidders include former PizzaExpress co-owner Luke Johnson, though he is thought to have fallen out with ABN Amro Capital, his venture capital backer.

There are also suggestions that ABN Amro Capital is considering an alternative management team to lead a bid, such as a group led by Ian Eldridge, PizzaExpress' former chief executive, who resigned early last year.

Growing speculation about the company's sale drove PizzaExpress shares up 18p (U.S. 29 cents) to 321½p (U.S. $5.19) on Feb. 12, after the group confirmed that the bid process was "well advanced."

PizzaExpress board chairman Nigel Colne confirmed management was still involved in the process, but warned the process had cost £600,000 (U.S. $969,300) in professional fees in the half year to December 31, and that "further significant costs may be incurred in the second half," depending on whether a deal is signed.

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