Retail round up Â– The Sunday papers
Lastminute.com sued over O2 ticket sales, Blackstone talks to Malcolm Walker about bid for Iceland Foods, 'Cautious expansion' for American Apparel in Britain, Karen Millen heads for China, John Lewis blames 'horror week' for sales on autumn heatwave, Whistles profits are in the pink, Sainsbury's vows to match rivals' prices automatically, Boots will weigh in against fat, fashion Group in cash plea, Super-rich drive Harrods private bank expansion, Troubled Premier Foods in brands sell-off, Banks decide fate of pubs, Ladbrokes deal on.
The company that operates the O2 arena in London's Docklands is suing Lastminute.com over ticket sales. Ansco Arena, the AEG subsidiary which operates the music venue, has served a High Court writ against the online travel and events company. The writ, a copy of which has been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, claims that Lastminute.com, part of US travel conglomerate Sabre Holdings, sold too few tickets for events and wrongly claimed it had terminated the agreement.
Blackstone, the private equity giant, has held talks with Malcolm Walker about backing his likely £1bn-1.5bn bid for Iceland Foods. The firm, which also has stakes in consumer-focused businesses including Merlin Entertainments and Center Parcs, is believed to have had a number of conversations with the retailer's founder and chief executive. The 77% of the frozen-foods supermarket chain which Mr Walker does not own is up for sale by Landsbanki and Glitnir, the Icelandic banks which inherited it following the collapse of the Baugur retail empire.
The Independent on Sunday
American Apparel, the US clothing retailer known for its controversial advertisements and founder, is bucking the trend in the UK and has reported positive sales growth despite the shrinking UK consumer's purse. The listed US retailer reported a 3 per cent increase in like-for-like sales for the third quarter this year, and said sales in the UK and Europe "indicated a strong performance".The company faced a bleak future earlier this year but has now restructured and has $20m from new investors to continue its turnaround.
The UK fashion brand Karen Millen plans a big expansion into China, after buying the rights to use its name there. Karen Millen has 314 outlets in 40 countries and makes more money from its overseas business than in the UK. It has been planning the move to China for three years and has been in complex negotiations with a Chinese investor who had bought the rights to the names of many of the UK's major brands, including Karen Millen.
John Lewis suffered a dramatic collapse in trade with sales down in every store last week as the autumn heatwave kept shoppers away. Like-for-like sales were down nearly 10%, an outcome that Seymour Pierce analyst Freddie George described it as a "horror of a week". He calculated that underlying sales were down as much as 15% if the figure was adjusted to allow for new stores. The hot spell was bad news for the high street, especially fashion retailers whose shops are full of winter jackets and jumpers. The retailer, which is regarded as a barometer for high street trading, said clothing sales slumped 13% in the week to last Saturday while homewares were off nearly 6%.
High-street fashion brand Whistles has returned to profit, thanks to the Midas touch of former Topshop supremo Jane Shepherdson – and the patronage of a few famous friends. The retailer, whose red and pink striped top was modelled by Samantha Cameron at last week's Conservative party conference, turned the previous year's small loss into an operating profit of £1.2m in the year to 29 January. Sales jumped 13% to £38.8m.
Mail on Sunday
Sainsbury's will this week fire the latest volley in a supermarket price war that is set to usher in an aggressive era for food retailers. The Sainsbury’s Price Match guarantees that the supermarket will offer the same price as Asda and Tesco on 13,000 branded products, or will automatically refund the difference as money-off vouchers at the till. Financial Mail reported last month that the supermarket had quietly conducted a trial of the scheme in Northern Ireland.
Boots is preparing a major assault on the country’s growing obesity problem in an attempt to make it stand out in an increasingly competitive High Street. Weight Watchers will soon start selling products in Boots stores that until now have been available only to members and through its website. The chemist chain is also investing heavily in promoting its own weight-loss products and membership programmes with TV fitness celebrity Rosemary Conley and Australian weight loss expert Tony Ferguson.
Suppliers to fashion group Alexon – a major seller to Britain’s big department stores with its Dash, Ann Harvey, Kaliko, Eastex and Lazy Lu brands – have been asked to waive payments for 90 days, even though the company has been ‘saved’ from bankruptcy by private equity group Sun European Capital.
The Qatari owners of Harrods Bank – a private bank founded in 1893 and operating from the famous London department store – are in talks with the Financial Services Authority in an attempt to launch a major expansion. The owners are now hoping to unwind the bank’s share structure and are talking to regulators about their plans to grow the bank ‘dramatically’, accounts show.
Premier Foods will seek to raise about £200million by selling some of Britain’s best-known brands, including Hartley’s jam and Haywards pickle, following a profits warning last week. The group has hired advisers to sell the brands along with its RF Brookes chilled foods businesses to tackle a net debt of £950 million and a pension fund deficit of £500 million. RF Brookes products are ‘white label’ goods made for rebranding.
The shake-up of Britain’s beleaguered pub industry has accelerated with Orchid Group under threat of a takeover by its banks. Discussions over control of Orchid’s 300 pubs, including the Country Carvery chain, have been triggered by widening losses, which are expected to result in the company breaching its banking covenants in the coming weeks.
Online gaming firm Sportingbet is expected to pave the way for a £530m takeover by Ladbrokes this week with the sale of its controversial Turkish gambling business. Sportingbet is on the verge of sealing a disposal of its Turkish arm to GVC, an AIM-listed online gaming group.
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