Sunday Retail News Roundup
Predators stalk House of Fraser, Vodafone fine, TK Maxx smart sales rise, British stores profit warnings soar, Telecoms veteran slams broadband Big Six, John Lewis personalised Christmas sacks, Former SuperGroup boss pep up online GP, Bicester Village expansion Shanghai, The upper brand.
A pack of aggressive American hedge funds has launched a raid on House of Fraser, buying into the department store’s bonds amid fears over its trading. Apollo Global Management, New York, is among the so-called distressed debt funds that have bought slices of the bonds in recent weeks. The retail chain sold £175m worth of bonds on the Luxembourg stock exchange as part of a £300m refinancing last year. These have fallen sharply in value in the past fortnight and finished last week trading at about 83p in the pound. The slump reflects concerns over sales and profits at the 167-year-old House of Fraser, which employs more than 17,500 people in 60 shops. Department stores are being squeezed by rising internet shopping, fickle consumer spending on fashion and higher costs. House of Fraser already runs on tight profit margins. It is tied into expensive leases, many of them signed while it was a listed company, before it was taken private by an Icelandic consortium in 2006. It was bought by Sanpower Group, a Chinese conglomerate, in 2014. The company managed a 4.2% increase in like-for-like sales in the year to January, with underlying earnings up 3% to £66.3m. However, it suffered a fifth year of pre-tax losses because of charges related to its refinancing. The picture darkened when House of Fraser gave an update last month, warning of challenging trading conditions and saying sales had fallen by 2% in the eight weeks to September 24. A battle for ownership would test the resources of Yuan Yafei, Sanpower’s autocratic and colourful boss. Yuan claims to be a billionaire, but his failure to provide £75m of investment promised to House of Fraser has prompted doubts over his wealth. Sanpower owns 89% of House of Fraser, with the other 11% held by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct discount retail business.
Mail on Sunday.
Vodafone was last week fined £4.6million by communications regulator Ofcom for catastrophically failing customers. But complaints continue to surface. In issuing its fine, Ofcom said that between January 2014 and November 2015, Vodafone provided its frontline customer service staff with insufficient and ambiguous information on when to treat a customer call as a complaint. Complaints about mobile phone operators to Ofcom are published every quarter. While Vodafone has been the most complained about mobile network since the fourth quarter of 2014, peaking at the end of 2015, Tesco Mobile has performed consistently well by comparison as the least complained about provider every quarter since the latter half of 2014. In the latest update, Vodafone racked up 23 complaints per 100,000 accounts, compared to Tesco Mobile’s one per 100,000. Providers O2 and Three were next best in the table with two and three complaints respectively.
Budget fashion retailer TK Maxx clocked up another strong performance last year with a rise in turnover and profits. The US-owned chain, which launched in the UK in 1994 with a store in Bristol, increased sales by 11 per cent from £2.2billion to £2.4billion in the 12 months to January 30, 2016. Pre-tax profits also jumped 11 per cent from £128million to £142.3million. TK Maxx opened 25 new outlets last year, including six HomeSense stores, and same-store sales rose by 4.6 per cent year on year. Directors said they planned to continue expanding the business in the UK with 24 new stores in 2017. Earlier this year, the company opened its 500th European store in Chichester, West Sussex. Its parent firm received dividends of £54.2million last year, up from £16.5million previously.
Profit warnings from British stores groups shot up in the third quarter of 2016, but the rise in bad news was not driven by the vote for the UK to leave the European Union. Leading retailers issued nine warnings in the three months to the end of September, the highest figure for five years and the worst autumn toll since the financial crisis of 2008. The sharp increase in retail warnings was not driven by Brexit, but the long-running pressure on profit margins from discounting and price wars. More recent warning from Sports Direct, which explicitly blamed the falling pound. Overall the number of profit warning put out by British companies edged up to 68 during the third quarter.
Andy Hollingworth, former director TalkTalk and now boss of business broadband provider Toople, has hit out at the questionable practices of Big Six rivals selling to small firms. He took aim at those selling broadband as a business service to small firms when he claimed it was no different to a normal household service. He claimed small firms found themselves competing for bandwidth with children playing games after school and during holidays. The Big Six broadband providers BT, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, PlusNet and EE are used by 90 per cent of firms and consumers. A drop in broadband speed was noticed by 72 per cent. Yesterday a report from MPs revealed 17 million mobile phone customers have poor reception at home or none at all. Grant Shapps MP said It is time to get tough with the industry.
Two friend selling personalised Christmas sacks have landed a deal with John Lewis. Louis Porter and Tom Coleman started the business, The Handmade Christmas Co, which is officially called 36&5Ltd, in 2014. They have a pop-up for personalised sacks in John Lewis’s flagship Oxford Street store, with another set to launch in Peter Jones. John Lewis will stock non-personalised sacks in every store. Coleman said We’ve already had a meeting with John Lewis last week to discuss next Christmas.
The first British digital GP service, where appointments take place via video link, has brought in a former executive at fashion firm SuperGroup to join its board. Susanne Given, who was SuperGroup’s chief operating officer, has been made non-executive chairwoman at Push Doctor, which provides medical advice from 7,000 UK doctors over the internet. Given, who was previously UK and Ireland managing director at retailer TK Maxx and is chairwoman of furniture group Made.com, said the firm will transform healthcare as we know it today.
Shanghai Village, the gleaming new luxury retail resort, is an ambitious joint venture between Value Retail, the owners of Britain’s Bicester Village, and state-owned enterprise Shanghai Shendi. While there has been endless chatter about Chinese shoppers flocking to UK shops to take advantage of the weaker pound, Value Retail is now betting that the Chinese will skip a flight to London for Aquascutum coats or Milan for Furla handbags, and gain an appetite for shopping at home. After all, only 7pc of China’s 1.4bn population hold passports. The retailer already has a deep understanding of Chinese consumer tastes due to the sheer volume of people that flock to Bicester Village, the UK’s second most popular destination for tourists from China after Buckingham Palace.
The first week of November is when high street shops bolster their efforts for what is traditionally their most profitable season: the pre-Christmas rush. This year, two brands will go head to head Marks & Spencer will launch its latest Alexa Chung collection on 1 November, while H&M’s most recent designer collaboration, this time with French brand Kenzo, will be in store on 3 November. Both are hyped to fever pitch and aimed at the disposable income of millennials. But will they be on Team Kenzo or Team Alexa?. There’s arguably more at stake for the Chung collection. M&S clothing sales fell 8.9% in the first three months of 2016, the biggest loss in 10 years. H&M’s sales were be less than expected, and the worst in three years, but the company remains in the black, up 5% in the second quarter of 2016. The two ranges are limited edition and have the kudos of a guest designer at high street prices. Both were created to lure customers tired of what the high street has to offer.
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