Following months of speculation about its future, national distributor Computer Hardware Australia (CHA) has been forced into receivership by the ANZ Bank.
CHA's managing director, Roger Bushell confirmed yesterday that accounting firm Ernst & Young had been appointed to manage the receivership which he claimed to be the result of a legal battle as opposed to the insolvency of CHA. He said he was unable to talk candidly about the situation, as there were matters in dispute which may jeopardise the receiver's negotiations.
"Yes it is true. CHA is in receivership," Bushell said. "I can confirm that but I am unable to say any more without speaking to the receiver."
When asked by ARN, Bushell said the final move came as the result of a "legal dispute" with a creditor. "I can't comment because there is a legal dispute involved. It is not just a straightforward 'company-going-belly-up' receivership."
Michael Scales, the appointed receiver at Ernst & Young, also offered very little in the way of detail as to how much debt was involved and who the secured creditors might be.
Scales denied there was any legal dispute involved and said it was the ANZ Bank that made the decision to force CHA into receivership.
"It's very early days. We were only appointed at lunchtime yesterday," Scales told ARN this morning. "We are going through the process of assessing the business and its potential sale as a going concern, but there are other stakeholders and unsecured creditors who have to be contacted and considered as well."
Scales said the future partial or whole sale of CHA, or its closure altogether, is mere speculation at this stage.
"I have had approaches from several parties already and the company was already in negotiations with several parties as well," he said. "It is so early in the process, so I am not fixed in my view at this stage as to what the outcome of the assessment of the business will be."
Scales wouldn't rule out the partial sale of distribution arms or regional subsidiaries.
There will now be a scramble from major distributors to move in on the substantial Toshiba notebook business that saw CHA as the vendor's number one notebook distributor with multi-million dollar monthly sales.
A spokesperson for Toshiba's Australian mobile computer division said the company would not comment on its relationship with CHA.
At the time of posting this story, it was rumoured that Ingram Micro and other distributors were actively negotiating with the receiver for at least the Toshiba part of the business.
Ingram Micro's managing director, Steve Rust, wouldn't speculate on the company's interest in CHA in its entirety or just its Toshiba business.
"As a publicly-listed company we have to be very careful about what we say about our acquisition plans," Rust told ARN. "Until something is announced on the stock exchange I am unable to comment to the media."
CHA rose to national prominence in the wholesale channel in the late 1990s with a core focus on mobile solutions. A series of acquisitions saw it grow from its original Victorian base to be in the top 10 distributors in the country on turnover, including number one status for Acer and Toshiba.
The company suffered two failed takeover blows during 2000. Firstly, early in the year when a deal with now-defunct US entity CHS Electronics finally fell through and then again late last year when ASX-listed Quadtel pulled out of a mooted acquisition at the last moment.
* Jeanne-Vida Douglas contributed to this story.