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21 April 2024

Lenders take control at UK department store Debenhams

Photo: AFP


British department store chain Debenhams has been taken over by lenders after falling into administration, it said Tuesday, amid tough times in the retail sector.

High street stalwart Debenhams, whose history dates back to 1778, added in a statement that its new owners will inject "significant" funding of £200 million (232 million euros, $261 million) into the struggling business.

Debenhams, which has 165 stores across Britain and some 25,000 staff, appointed administrators FTI Consulting who swiftly sold it to a newly incorporated company controlled by its secured lenders.

Department stores are among a string of major UK retailers who have fallen victim to fierce online competition, rising business property taxes and stretched household budgets, all while Brexit uncertainty grinds on.

Debenhams had declined a last-gasp takeover bid from tycoon Mike Ashley, who owns sportswear retailer Sports Direct and had purchased collapsed department store chain House of Fraser last year.

"It is disappointing to reach a conclusion that will result in no value for our equity holders," said Debenhams chairman Terry Duddy.

"However, this transaction will allow Debenhams to continue trading as normal; access the funding we need; and proceed with executing our turnaround plans, whilst deleveraging the group's balance sheet.

"We remain focused on protecting as many stores and jobs as possible, consistent with establishing a sustainable store portfolio in line with our previous guidance.

"Our customers, colleagues, pension holders, suppliers and landlords can be reassured that Debenhams will now be able to move forward on a stable footing."

The so-called pre-packaged administration deal wipes out the stakes held by all shareholders including Ashley.

The deal also axes plans for an emergency shareholder meeting in which Ashley was to seek his appointment to the board and oust most other directors.

Long-established UK retailers are battling sliding consumer sentiment and Brexit uncertainty alongside the faltering economy.

They also face fierce competition from the likes of online US titan Amazon.

The last 18 months has seen the demise of clothing outlet Calvetron, music retailer HMV, the Toys 'R' Us toy chain, Maplin electronics stores and discount store Poundworld.