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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Sweney

US owner of Boots revives plan to offload UK pharmacy chain

A Boots store
Walgreens last month reached a £4.8bn deal to offload the Boots pension scheme to Legal and General. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The US parent company of Boots has revived plans to offload the UK’s biggest pharmacy chain.

Walgreens Boots Alliance, which abandoned a £5bn sale of Boots and its related No7 Beauty brand last year, is reportedly exploring options including an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange.

The US pharmacy company abandoned a separation of Boots last summer, blaming global financial market conditions that meant potential buyers were struggling to borrow enough money.

The company, which is reportedly in early talks about the future of Boots, values the business at about £7bn, according to Bloomberg.

Walgreens, which is listed on the New York stock exchange, has a market value of about $20bn (£16bn) but its share price has slumped by almost 40% this year. Last month, Walgreens reached a £4.8bn deal to offload the Boots pension scheme to Legal and General, simplifying a possible divestiture of the business.

During the last sale process, the Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and the US private equity investor Apollo Global Management made a joint £5bn bid for Boots.

There was also interest from the owners of Asda, the brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa, although that never led to a formal bid, while the US companies CVC and Bain Capital dropped a mooted approach.

Walgreens had been reported to be looking for as much as £10bn when it initially put Boots up for sale, as it sought to focus on its US businesses.

The possibility of a flotation in London would give the stock market a significant boost after a number of setbacks in recent years, with companies opting to either delist or choose to debut in other markets.

Last week, Europe’s biggest package holiday operator, Tui, said it was considering moving its stock exchange listing from the FTSE 250 to solely Frankfurt.

The building materials group CRH, one of the biggest companies on the FTSE 100, announced in March it was moving its primary listing to the US, after the UK-based plumbing equipment supplier Ferguson did the same last year.

Also in March, the Cambridge-based chip designer Arm, one of the UK’s few bona fide global tech success stories, snubbed London in favour of floating on the Nasdaq in New York, in one of the biggest initial public offerings in recent years.

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