Mike Ashley to Offer Lifeline to Arcadia Group, Sky Reports

Mike Ashley, the founder of the Sports Direct sportswear chain, is prepared to offer a 50 million-pound ($66.5 million) loan to Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, which is teetering on the brink of administration, Sky News reported.

The board of Frasers Group Plc, run by Ashley, has drawn up plans for an emergency loan to Arcadia, Sky reported, citing Chris Wootton, Frasers’ chief financial officer.

“We hope that Sir Philip Green and the Arcadia Group will contact us today to discuss how we can support them and help save as many jobs as possible,” Wootton told Sky.

Any new loan to Arcadia would require approval and additional security from the retailer’s pension plan trustees. News of the possible loan comes after Ashley told ITV News on Friday that he’s interested in all of the brands owned by Arcadia Group, which include clothing retailers Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins and Burton among others. This marks a change in tone from last year when Ashley said in an interview with the Times that he wouldn’t buy Arcadia Group for even one pound.

Bidders are starting to circle Arcadia Group as it’s likely to file a notice of intention to appoint an administrator, a U.K. form of insolvency, next week after sales plummeted during the second lockdown of shops in England. The retail group has been battling to restructure its business since last year and wrote in an emailed statement on Friday that it’s exploring “a number of contingency options” after Covid-19 “had a material impact on trading across our businesses.”

One of the options under consideration is a light-touch administration, where the existing management remains in place under the supervision of the administrators, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Debenhams, the struggling department store retailer, recently filed for the same type of insolvency process which has allowed the company to continue operating while it seeks a buyer or additional funding.

Consultancy group Deloitte LLP is being lined up as administrator.

A representative for Deloitte declined to comment, while a spokesperson for Arcadia declined to comment beyond the statement. Frasers Group has not responded to calls for comment.

If Arcadia does file for administration, it could put 13,000 jobs and about 500 stores across the country at risk. It would be another blow to Britain’s retail sector which is reeling from the impact of Covid-19 and has already lost more than 125,000 jobs since the start of the year.

Even before the pandemic, retailers were operating in a highly competitive market and grappling with high rents and the continued consumer shift to online shopping. Last year Arcadia carried out a process to close stores and slash rents in a bid to lower its costs.

Green is one of the most controversial characters in British business. Once feted as the “king of the high street,” his reputation was damaged following the sale and subsequent high-profile collapse in 2016 of BHS, a department store business previously owned by Arcadia. He was criticized for putting at risk the pensions of thousands of current and former BHS employees and for payments of large dividends to his wife, Tina Green, who is the ultimate owner of the Arcadia business.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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