LONDON, United Kingdom — Billionaire Mike Ashley, vying with creditors for control of Debenhams Plc, is considering an offer that would value the troubled U.K. department-store chain’s equity at £61.4 million ($81 million).
Ashley’s Sports Direct International Plc, which already owns about 30 percent of Debenhams, said it’s weighing a bid worth 5 pence a share in cash. Before going firm on his offer, Ashley is demanding that Debenhams name him chief executive officer and halt a loan process, due to finish Thursday, that would lead to greater control for the company’s lenders.
The possible bid ratchets up the struggle for Debenhams, a fixture of the UK’s shopping streets that’s fallen on hard times as consumers buy more online and confront the economic vagaries of Brexit. It’s the latest of Ashley’s attempts to wrest control of the retailer and save his stake after offering two spurned loans and proposing last week to buy its profitable Danish stores for £100 million.
“Ashley’s scattergun approach shows how desperate he is to protect his stake,” Neill Keaney, an analyst at CreditSights in London, said in a telephone interview. “This potential offer for the equity is now a final throw of the dice, but it doesn’t do anything to tackle Debenhams’s debt issues.”
Sports Direct’s offer is more than double Tuesday’s closing share price, but the stock has fallen about 90 percent over the past 12 months as the company seeks a rescue. The shares almost doubled early Wednesday in London before paring gains to 52 percent at 1:30 p.m.
Shareholders “are sick and tired of being ignored, cast aside and trampled underfoot by the lenders of Debenhams who through the incompetence, or worse collusion, of the board, are allowing these critical stakeholders in the business to be wiped out,” Chris Wootton, Sports Direct’s deputy chief financial officer, said in an email. “This is the shareholders’ chance to fight back.”
Houlihan Lokey, a financial services firm that advises Debenhams’s lenders, declined to comment. A Debenhams representative declined to comment.
The retailer said Tuesday that it would consider any offer from Ashley, but that he’d have to address its immediate funding requirements and repay up to £560 million of debt. Sports Direct said Wednesday that it would work with Debenhams on its financing needs, without providing details or mentioning the debt pile.
Ashley has stepped up his pursuit of the chain as he stands to lose most of his investment. Following the plunge in the share price, the refinancing plans being discussed with creditors may wipe out all equity value for shareholders, Debenhams said last week.
A cash offer would be a change of direction from Sports Direct, which has previously said it would be interested in rescuing Debenhams out of insolvency, as it did with rival department-store chain House of Fraser last year. If Sports Direct were to take on Debenhams debt in an acquisition, the company would likely breach its leverage threshold on its own debt obligations, Berenberg analysts wrote in a note to clients.
“It is becoming increasingly more likely that Sports Direct will look to acquire Debenhams outright rather than see it collapse into administration or embark on a restructuring process,” the analysts wrote.
By Katie Linsell and Eric Pfanner; editors: Eric Pfanner and John Lauerman.