Retail round up - the Sunday papers
Habitat is put up for sale, Debenhams boss may step down, Microsoft considers shops, Halifax estate agency sale puts jobs at risk, Burberry in legal action with Pets At Home, Royal Mail to hire extra workers to cope with Christmas
Habitat has been put up for sale by its Swedish owners amid accelerating losses at the retail chain famed for bringing high-end design to the masses since the 1960s. The retailer, founded by Sir Terence Conran, has been hit hard by the credit crunch as shoppers have shied away from splashing out on big-ticket items such as furniture. But retail experts say many of the chain’s woes are self-inflicted, arguing that it has suffered from poor customer service, the wrong product mix and overpricing. The Sunday Times has learnt that the Kamprad family, heirs to the Ikea fortune, have appointed bankers at Lazard to carry out a strategic review of the business, which could lead to a sale of the company. Habitat’s latest accounts for the year to March 30, 2008, show the UK business lost more than £13.4m and is dependent on its parent company — an Amsterdam holding company, Habitat BV — for its financial survival.
John Lovering is expected to announce this week that he will stand down as chairman of Debenhams next year, triggering a boardroom shake-up at the department-store chain. Lovering, one of the retail sector’s best-known entrepreneurs, has been chairman of the company since December 2003, and led its flotation on the stock market in May 2006.Lovering has just turned 60 and will step down to pursue other interests. He runs a charitable foundation, but friends say he may be tempted back into a top job if the right opportunity comes up. Lovering’s intention to stand down will be revealed as Debenhams unveils its full-year results this week. It is forecast to report profits of £120-£130m, up from £110m last year.
Microsoft is this week preparing to take the gloves off in its fight with arch rivals Apple and Google. On Thursday the software giant will release Windows 7, likely to be the most popular version of its operating system since Windows XP was launched in 2001. The company is also expected to give more details on another big gamble — its first shops. But what analysts are most interested in is how Microsoft will tackle the rise of “the cloud” — vast data centres that host numerous software applications remotely, removing the need to buy upgrades in a box or maintain clunky hard drives in the home or office.
The future of Regent Inns, the debt-laden pub chain, which employs 2,000 staff, is in doubt after a management buy-out collapsed on Friday. The group’s bank consortium, led by HSBC, is now hoping it can persuade a trade buyer to acquire the business.The banks received an approach last Friday and talks will resume early this week. If successful, the pub group, which runs the Walkabout pub chain, will be put into a pre-pack administration. It will then be immediately bought by the new owner.
Chris Ronnie, the former chief executive of JJB who led the retailer during an 18-month period that is now the subject of five probes including a fraud investigation, claims he would be entitled to immunity from prosecution should the OFT find evidence the company colluded with rival Sports Direct to fix prices. The revelation will surprise the City as Ronnie is regarded as the focus of the multiple inquiries. An OFT spokesman confirmed that both current and former employees qualify for immunity from prosecution for cartel offences provided there has been an admission of participation and full co-operation.
Up to 460 jobs were at risk last night after Lloyds Banking Group agreed to sell its Halifax estate agencies chain for £1 to the owner of the Your Move sales and lettings business. The bank, which is 43% owned by the taxpayer, admitted that 121 bank counters located in estate agencies would close but insisted the Halifax brand would continue to be used by the Lloyds group. The counter closures will result in up to 460 job losses, including 360 full-time roles. The loss-making business, which operates 218 offices, is being sold to LSL, the parent company of estate agency brands Your Move, Reeds Rains and Intercounty. About 1,050 staff will transfer to LSL.
The famous Burberry check, which made a triumphant return to London Fashion Week last month, is the subject of a legal row between the high fashion house and pet accessories chain Pets At Home. Burberry is suing the retail chain claiming material used on items such as dog coats and baskets sold in the retailers' 250 stores had used a plaid design amounting to a copyright infringement. Products are understood to have been pulled from shops, but the dispute has yet to be resolved. Last week, Burberry revealed six month revenues up 14%, with its signature check – an emblem for the fashion house for almost 100 years – continuing throughout its range.
Debenhams will unveil its first TV ad campaign for two years tomorrow night as it seeks to reposition itself as a designer-focused chain ahead of an expected rise in profits. The £2m ad, which is voiced by Withnail & I actor Paul McGann, will feature the new slogan 'Design in every department'. It replaces the retailer's 'Styling the nation' strapline, which has been ditched. The high-profile ad will be launched three days before Debenhams is expected to announce a 11pc rise in full-year pre-tax profits.
Royal Mail is to recruit 30,000 temporary workers in an attempt to reduce the impact of a series of nationwide postal strikes which start on Thursday. Five thousand managers will also be used to keep the post moving during each strike and Royal Mail will open five extra sorting centres for parcels to minimise disruption in the run-up to Christmas, the busiest period of the year. Royal Mail said it expected most of the 20,000 postmen and women not in the union to work through the strike.
Financial Times Sat / Sun
The sharp rise in J Sainsbury’s shares this week has put a possible bid for the UK’s third biggest supermarket group firmly back on the agenda. Two years ago, the Qatar Investment Authority, working then with its UK investment adviser Paul Taylor, made an indicative £10.6bn ($17.3bn) bid for Sainsbury, but it walked away after differences over the funding of the supermarket’s pension scheme. Since then, there have been various rumours of renewed interest from the QIA, which retains a 26 per cent stake in Sainsbury, but these turned out to be false dawns. So could the time be right for another attempt?
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