Bitcoin investor eyes Albemarle & Bond buyout

Michael Bow
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ONE OF the world’s biggest investors in cryptocurrency Bitcoin is eyeing a deal to take control of stricken UK pawnbroker Albemarle & Bond.

Fortress Investment Group, a Wall Street fund manager founded by ex-BlackRock executives, is understood to have made a move to buy more than £50m of debt Albemarle & Bond owes to its banks, Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group.

Plans for the deal, first reported by the Sunday Times, could open the door for a debt-for-equity swap, wiping out shareholders and giving Fortress control of the high street chain.

Fortress, co-founded by Wesley Edens and Randal Nardone in 1998, is one of the world’s biggest investors in Bitcoin and owns about $20m (£11.9m) of the cryptocurrency, according to results released last month.

It currently runs about $60bn in funds, with about 16 per cent of this in debt-type trades, mirroring the proposed Albemarle & Bond deal.

The pawnbroker, which has over 200 shops on the high street, has endured a painful year due a slide in the price of gold, which is part its core business.

Shares in the group have tumbled 96 per cent over the past 12 months and fell 13 per cent on Friday to close at a low of 6.3p.

Lloyds and Barclays gave Albemarle & Bond a six months reprieve on its debt limits in October last year, before handing it another lifeline extending the limit to 31 March.

The move suggests broad support by the lenders to the board – which includes chief restructuring officer Colin Whipp who was appointed in October – to solve the firm’s woes without selling it on to debt investors.

All parties declined to comment yesterday.