Friday, 19 April, 2019

Debenhams on brink of administration

BRITAIN-COURT-ASHLEY Mike Ashley could take legal action against Debenham's directors for negating their responsibilities under the UK Companies Act
Priscilla Morrison | 09 April, 2019, 19:12

Debenhams staff are awaiting the outcome of negotiations which could see the chain saved this afternoon (Monday, April 8).

Sports Direct says Debenhams has rejected its offer to inject £150m into the troubled department store chain.

"In the continued absence of any such engagement from the board of Debenhams and Debenhams' lenders, there is a likely significant and negative impact on Debenhams' current shareholders and other stakeholders, including suppliers and employees", Sports Direct said.

Debenhams declined to comment last night.

Despite its long history, Debenhams has been battling for survival after a consumer shift online and to cheaper outlets destroyed 90 percent of its share value in the past year. Despite almost £3bn of sales previous year, the business is now worth less than £30m as its share price has crashed to less than 2p.

The store closures are likely to put around 4,000 jobs at risk.

Debenhams has been at the centre of an increasingly bitter move by Sports Direct chief Mike Ashley to take over as CEO.

However, a source familiar with the situation said that there is a lack of trust between the two sides, with Debenhams fearing that Ashley could renege on his investment offer after he takes control.

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Mr Ashley was previously given a deadline of 5pm on Monday to fulfil one of two conditions to prevent Debenhams from falling into the hands of lenders.

Debenhams, once Britain's biggest department store, has been fighting for its future after its sales plunged, prompting Ashley to buy nearly 30 percent of the company before he sought to take full control of the group with either a takeover or an underwritten rights issue.

"Ashley becoming CEO is a major sticking point for the lenders; there is a major trust deficit here", the source said, declining to be named because the talks are private.

Debenhams said Ashley must also sign a "stabilisation agreement", forcing him to avoid issuing any public statements that could harm the retailer, and cancel his call for a shareholder meeting at which he wants to oust the board and install himself as chief executive.

In an extraordinary outburst, Mr Ashley claimed that he and two colleagues subsequently took lie detector tests, with the results showing "without any doubt" that they were telling the truth in their recollection of the meeting.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, fears lenders won't back Ashley's latest bid, saying the conditions are too costly.

But the retailer said it was still giving "active consideration" to a separate offer, first proposed in March, to take over Debenhams by purchasing existing shares.

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