Debenhams tells Sports Direct 'thanks, but lender talks go on'

Another day, another verbal volley in the battle between Debenhams and major shareholder Sports Direct with Debenhams replying on Tuesday morning to Sports Direct’s suggestion that it might make a full cash offer for the department store chain.


Debenhams appears to have rebuffed Sports Direct again


But the reply wouldn’t have been what Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley wanted to hear with the retailer saying that his proposal wouldn’t deal with its immediate funding issues. The problem for him is that time is running out to prevent a funding deal that would see his holding in Debenhams reduced to zero.

In case you’ve been elsewhere for the past few months, the story so far is that Debenhams’ turnaround plan is taking a long time to yield results and the heavily indebted firm needs urgent funding. Talks with its lenders and/or a CVA filing could see them being handed control of the firm, which would wipe out existing shareholders. As an almost-30% stakeholder in the company, Sports Direct has spent tens of millions on the shares.

It’s Debenhams’ biggest shareholder and has previously made funding offers to the firm, but these came with conditions Debenhams didn’t like. On Friday, it also offered to buy Magasin du Nord for £100 million, an offer Debenhams declined. Then on Monday, Sports Direct said it was considering that full cash offer for the entire company.

So, on Tuesday, Debenhams said it would consider any offer but is continuing with its funding talks as it doesn’t believe that an offer in the next few weeks would solve its problems that are very short term.

“Any firm proposal from Sports Direct regarding an offer for the company will be given due consideration by the board,” it said. “Given the timetable associated with any public offer [Sports Direct has to come up with a firm bid by April 22], an offer for the company would not, in itself, address Debenhams' immediate funding requirement. Therefore, the company will continue with its plan to obtain the funding required, as outlined in Debenhams' statement of 22 March.”

It added that it wanted any proposal from Sports Direct to provide “an indication of the offer price, form of consideration and any other terms of such possible offer.” Plus it expects “a clear plan of how Debenhams' existing debt - which will fall due on any change of control - will be repaid; and a proposal that addresses the immediate funding requirements of the business.”

Debenhams, which has a current market capitalisation of less than £30 million, is seeking a cash injection of up to £200 million from existing lenders. They have until Thursday to approve that cash call. If approved, this would allow the firm to restructure, leading to that shareholder wipeout Mike Ashley is clearly trying to avert.

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