Monday, 19 August, 2019

Sports Direct Proposes Alternative Interest-Free Loan Deal To Ailing Debenhams

Sports Direct offers Debenhams £150m interest-free loan Sports Direct offers £150m loan to bail out Debenhams
Jean Garcia | 16 March, 2019, 16:45

Mike Ashley's Sports Direct has escalated a tussle with the directors of Debenhams, raising concerns with the City watchdog over the group's communications.

If the deal conditions were approved by shareholders, the £150m loan would be interest-free, Sports Direct said.

Debenhams, which has net debt of around £286m and a committed debt facility of £520m that expires next year, said on Monday that it was in "advanced negotiations" with lenders about a new £150m loan, around £40m of which would be used to repay the bridge loan announced on 12 February.

If the 5% share issue was agreed, this would normally trigger full takeover proceedings, but Sports Direct wants a "whitewash" to be approved by Debenhams' independent shareholders, as it seems reluctant to go so far as this.

They said, "Nevertheless, the board will give careful consideration to the proposal and will engage with Sports Direct and other stakeholders regarding its feasibility in the interests of all parties".

"We reject these unfounded and self-serving complaints", Debenhams said. Without the equity, the loan would bear interest at 3 percent. It includes a loan on similar terms, however, in return Sports Direct is requiring that it should be issued with approximately 5 percent of new shares.

In the trading statement in question, Debenhams noted it was "currently on track" to meet market expectations.

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It is the latest move in the maverick businessman's high street shopping spree.

Sports Direct wrote to Debenhams directors before it warned on profit, saying comments made eight weeks earlier that cost savings were helping compensate for hard trading were "at best impossibly optimistic or at worst deliberately misleading", according to a report in the Financial Times.

Eight weeks later, the retailer warned that its profits would be lower after a hit to sales in the 18 weeks to January 5.

Mike Ashley is the founder and majority shareholder of Sports Direct.

The company responded with the letter, which accused Debenhams of being "misleading" by stating in January that it continued "to generate cash", despite ongoing discussions to refinance the business.

Ashley got an early sight of the profit warning as part of limited financial information from Debenhams that he has been receiving since signing a non-disclosure agreement several weeks ago as the company's board attempted to draw him into its rescue bid.

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