Oct 24, 2016
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French Connection chief says nothing behind report of possible bid interest

Oct 24, 2016

French Connection Group Plc founder Stephen Marks has dismissed a newspaper report of possible bid interest in the fashion retailer, saying there was nothing behind the article which sent its shares up more than 20 percent.

French Connection

The Telegraph had reported on Saturday that potential buyers were thought to be a mix of European and U.S. private equity firms, as well as investment manager Neuberger Berman, and that French Connection had approached investment bank Moelis & Co (MC.N) for advice.

Marks, who is executive chairman of the group, told Reuters on Monday: "There's no comment as there's no story."

Moelis declined to comment. Neuberger Berman did not respond to a request for comment.

French Connection has struggled to compete against fast-fashion rivals such as ASOS, Forever 21 and Inditex's Zara. It has not made a pretax profit since the year ended Jan. 31, 2012.

Private equity firms could be a natural fit for French Connection as they could push through operational changes to extract profit, and revive the company's brand appeal, Neil Saunders from retail consultant Conlumino said.

Also for overseas buyers British companies have become cheaper as Britain's vote to leave the European Union has driven the pound GBP= to its lowest in about three decades.

Any buyer would have to gain the backing of Marks, who held a 41.65 percent stake in the company as of March 15, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: "Marks will want a much higher price than anybody will pay, so bid talk will come to nothing (or) fizzle out."

French Connection shares had closed at 32.75 pence on Friday, valuing the group at about 31.5 million pounds. They are down sharply from highs of more than 500p set in 2004.

The retailer has been the source of takeover speculation in the past, and some industry experts said there was now more pressure on the company following years of underperformance and little sign of underlying issues being addressed, despite turnaround measures including store closures and the hiring of new management and design teams.

Activist investment firm Gatemore Capital Management, which has an 8 percent stake in French Connection, would be supportive of running an open sales process, Liad Meidar, managing partner at Gatemore, said in an emailed statement.

Gatemore said it would be interested in a potential buyer looking to focus on increasing the rate of store closures and improving gross margins in French Connection's retail and wholesale business.

French Connection needed to focus on fashion for 25- to 35- year-olds, said Gatemore, which last month urged the retailer to speed up its store closure program after its first-half results showed another loss.

French Connection shares were up 14.5 percent at 37.5 pence by 1327 GMT.

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