Will Mike Ashley rescue House of Fraser?
With House of Fraser rumoured to be close to collapse, it has emerged that the retailer is in emergency talks on a funding deal with one or more parties and Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley is believed to a key figure in the negotiations.
The retailer’s advisers are reportedly talking to the man who has been very critical of House of Fraser management in recent months. Ashley's company owns an 11% stake in the chain, which is currently preparing to radically downsize by closing more than half of its stores, and he hasn't been happy about the way its recent CVA was handled.
Initial talks on emergency funding were believed to have been held last week according to Sky News with sources close to House of Fraser saying that Ashley had been the one to make the first approach. Some £50 million worth of funding was discussed, potentially in the form of a loan or equity injection.
The news follows earlier revelations that the £70 million cash injection House of Fraser was due to receive from soon-to-be new owner C.Banner has been delayed for several months.
Sports Direct certainly has the resources to provide the funding that House of Fraser needs and the Sky News report also said that it has assured HoF it could offer other support such as "warehousing, online sales and the running of the business generally”.
HoF needs the financing urgently as it has a major rent bill due in September and also needs to buy-in stock for the important autumn and Christmas seasons.
If Sports Direct did provide the funding, it would be interesting to see where this would leave the sale of a majority stake to C.Banner as it’s likely that the UK company would want to negotiate a direct route to taking control of the firm.
Ashley has been building up sizeable strategic stakes in both HoF and rival Debenhams (in which it owns almost 30%) but has denied specific takeover ambitions in recent periods. However, he had tried to buy HoF back in 2014 but was beaten to the prize by its current owner Sanpower.
With the prospect that House of Fraser might collapse without urgent funding, Ashley might also decide to back off as it could be easier to take over the company if it actually did go under via a deal with the administrators.
The relationship between the department store chain and the sports retail giant have been fairly toxic in recent periods with Ashley having gone to court last month to force HoF to share its confidential business plan.
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