Business

Debenhams to consider Sports Direct takeover bid

The Debenhams store at CastleCourt in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

STRUGGLING retailer Debenhams has said it will give any firm takeover offer from Mike Ashley's Sports Direct "due consideration" but said it would continue with emergency funding plans.

Sports Direct, which purchased House of Fraser last year, said after market close on Monday it was considering making an offer to buy Debenhams to save the beleaguered department store chain.

Debenhams said given the "timetable associated with any public offer", a bid from Sports Direct would not address its immediate financing needs.

It confirmed Sports Direct now has until 5pm on April 22 to announce a firm intention to make a bid or walk away, under City takeover rules.

Debenhams shares rose more than 30 per cent in morning trading, reaching as high as 2.2p soon after opening, but Sports Direct stock fell 2 per cent.

The group added any proposal from Sports Direct must provide an indication of the offer price, a clear plan of how Debenhams' existing debt will be repaid and how it would address the immediate funding needs.

It also acknowledged a new request from Sports Direct on March 21 calling for a shareholder meeting.

In its announcement late on Monday, Sports Direct said it was considering an offer outright to take over Debenhams as it said the chain's financing plans "would result in an adverse outcome" for existing shareholders.

Sports Direct had earlier hit out at Debenhams for rejecting an offer to buy the chain's Danish business, Magasin du Nord, for £100 million - one of several offers it has made to put the department store chain on a more secure footing.

It added its proposals are better than the "multiple insolvency processes" Debenhams is considering as it looks to restructure.

As part of the plan, Mr Ashley, who owns just under 30 per cent of Debenhams, would have installed himself as chief executive of the ailing high street firm.

Mr Ashley, who is Debenhams' largest shareholder, has been seeking control of the group and had offered to lend it £150m or buy its Danish subsidiary.

Debenhams rebuffed these offers and is pursuing its own refinancing plan.

But on Friday it admitted existing shareholders could be wiped out by the proposals.

Debenhams employs 26,000 staff in the UK, around 250 of which are in the north.

The chain's biggest Northern Ireland store is at CastleCourt in Belfast, and it has other shops in Newry, Craigavon, Derry and Ballymena.

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