• Bargain-hunting investor group bids low for PizzaExpress

LONDON -- Restaurant group PizzaExpress has received a takeover offer from a group of investors that includes its former owner Hugh Osmond.

According to BBC News Online, a consortium dubbed Twigway wants to purchase PizzaExpress at a time when its share prices are down nearly 80 percent on the year.

Comparable-store sales this year at the 300-store chain have not recovered from sharp tourism declines following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

News of the takeover bid was formally announced on Nov. 4, though rumors of the move sent PizzaExpress share prices moving up on Friday, Nov. 1. Shares have jumped from 245p to 320p (U.S. $3.83 to $5) since the start of October, as speculation mounted over a possible takeover.

PizzaExpress reported the offer is between 330p and 350p (U.S. $5.16 and $5.47) per share, valuing the group at £251 million (U.S. $393 million). That price is markedly lower than the company's 920p (U.S. $14.39) share price in January.

According to Dow Jones Newswires, KBC Peel Hunt analyst Paul Hickman called Twigway's offer too low. He values PizzaExpress' shares at 415p (U.S. $6.50) each.

Richard Smith, fund manager at Henderson Global Investors, which holds 9.87 percent of PizzaExpress, also said a better offer is necessary for a sale.

Once the darling of the UK restaurant sector, PizzaExpress has struggled throughout 2002. Its chief executive Ian Eldridge left in February, and according to BBC News Online, stock analysts have continually reduced their expectations following his departure.

James Ainley, leisure analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein believes that accepting the offer at this point would be "quite a sensible thing to do."

Ainley said PizzaExpress has pumped a lot of capital into a business whose market may have moved on to other restaurants.

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