Debt weighs on owner of AA and Saga

THE owner of Saga and the AA, Acromas, lost almost £500m last year as the interest payments on its massive debt pile took their toll.

Acromas, taken private in June 2007 for £6.3bn by Charterhouse, Permira and CVC, posted a £458m pre-tax loss during the 12 months ended January, 13.4 per cent narrower than a year earlier. It now owes its creditors £6.6bn, up three per cent.

Andrew Goodsell, Acromas chief executive, described the results as “robust”, with group turnover up 11.4 per cent to £1.84bn, including £953m from Saga and £883m from the AA.

But operating profit, which rose 31.7 per cent to £241.6m, was effectively wiped out by debt interest payments of £335.4m. More than £350m was also rolled up into shareholder loans.

Acromas, which has long been the subject of flotation talk, said its businesses are growing and its debt is “exactly where it should be”.

Goodsell said: “This robust performance has been achieved against a very difficult economic backdrop. As measures taken to reduce the public sector deficit begin to take effect, consumers are starting to feel the pinch.”

Acromas was set up in 2007 after its private equity owners bought Saga and the AA in June 2007, funded by £4.8bn of bank borrowings and £1.5bn of shareholder loans.

In July Acromas agreed to buy Nasdaq-listed Allied Healthcare for $175m (£107m), six months after its £124m acquisition of Nestor Healthcare.

● Took on 1,500 staff last year, which grew the company 12 per cent to more than 14,000.

● It cut the pension deficit 54.6 per cent to £87.8m after capping the benefits available to workers in the AA fund.