Laura Ashley is £20m takeover target, but owners say they won't sell
Laura Ashley is set to be the subject of a takeover bid with the struggling company in the sights of UK businessman Michael Flacks, but it's unclear whether the owners could be convinced to sell.
Its current controlling shareholders, the Malaysia-based Khoo Family, said they believe that the company “will be able to grow profitably and in a sustainable manner” under their ownership.
The firm's chairman said "we have no intention of divesting our shareholding. Whilst I understand why potential parties would think we are significantly undervalued, I have complete confidence. We remain just as committed and passionate about this well-loved brand as when we first decided to invest in Laura Ashley over 20 years ago."
That statement came after the Sunday Telegraph had reported that the unexpected takeover approach by the Manchester born entrepreneur could see the London Stock Exchange-listed company being taken private in the latest attempt to turn around its fortunes.
Flacks started his own retail business when he left school at the age of 15 but made his fortune in the property market and he clearly thinks that Laura Ashley still has bright prospects ahead of it, despite the retailer having issued yet another profit warning last week.
The company's latest update had seen it saying that trading remains tough and that its interiors operations are facing a challenging market. However, its smaller fashion operations already appear to be in turnaround mode with double-digit comparable growth in the latest period.
Michael Flacks controls investment company Flacks Group, which the newspaper said has around £100 million available to look at opportunities presented by distressed companies based in Europe.
On Monday, the group's interest in Laura Ashley was confirmed in a stock exchange statement: "In response to the recent press speculation regarding the company, the Flacks Group confirms that it is in the very preliminary stages of evaluating a possible transaction that may include an offer for the entire issued and to be issued share capital of the company. Any such offer, if made, is expected to be satisfied in cash, and would be limited to a maximum cash payment per share of 2.748 pence, valuing the entire issued share capital of the company at approximately £20 million. The Flacks Group confirms this price is final and will not be increased or decreased."
The Telegraph said that the group is currently also targeting “a German clothing retailer, with £300 million of sales, and a French lingerie manufacturer” as part of a strategy to put together a pan-European retail operation.
Flacks was earlier unsuccessful in his attempt to buy discount chain Poundworld, but a spokesman for his investment vehicle said that a takeover bid for Laura Ashley was imminent, although no contact has yet been made with the Khoo family.
The family, which includes Laura Ashley chairman Andrew Khoo, is trying to turn around the company that has a lowly market value of only £23.5 million. But they clearly don’t seem to be leaping to Flacks’ bait.
The Khoos’ focus is on expanding the brand in Asia, specifically China. However, it's believed that Flacks, who spends a lot of time in the US, wants to push the brand in America where British heritage labels are highly thought of.
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