Nov 29, 2020
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Arcadia woes threaten JD Sports interest in Debenhams

Nov 29, 2020

Arcadia’s expected administration filing could derail JD Sports’ plan to buy Debenhams as Arcadia’s brands are a huge presence in the department store chain via a large number of concessions. 

Photo: Sandra Halliday

Reports at the weekend suggested JD Sports is having second thoughts due to the future of the brands owned by Arcadia being unclear.

If Boohoo bought some or all of them, as has been suggested, they’d be likely to exit all physical stores, which would reduce the appeal of any JD-owned Debenhams business. And if Mike Ashley’s Frasers group bought them (which his offer of a £50 million emergency loan to Arcadia suggests could happen), it would mean JD’s biggest rival being in charge of some of the most important labels in Debenhams’ concession portfolio.

It seems that an exclusivity period between JD and Debenhams’ current owners has ended without a deal. Although it’s also being suggested that JD Sports hasn’t ruled itself out of the Debenhams bidding entirely.

Given that no other bidder is believed to be in talks on buying Debenhams outright, liquidation remains a strong possibility for the UK’s oldest and largest department stores operator.

The company currently has 124 stores and employs 12,000 people and the news about Debenhams comes at a tough time for UK retail jobs as the uncertainty around Arcadia means a cloud is hanging over a further 13,000 jobs.

But could Debenhams still find a buyer? JD clearly remains interested and some observers have said Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group could find a way back in. Ashley had complained of being frozen out of the Debenhams auction after the department store's advisers said he hadn’t been prepared to pay enough for the business.

Ashley has long had his eye on Debenhams and spent up to £150 million building a near-30% staple in the firm when it was a stock exchange-listed business. That stake was wiped out when it filed for administration.

If Frasers bought Debenhams, it would be a situation loaded with potential given Ashley’s interest in Arcadia too, although it's not seen as the most likely scenario.

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