The leading outdoor retailer in the U.K. had announced just before Christmas that it had not received any firm offers for its takeover, but this was evidently due in large part to the weight of its net debt, which amounted to about £36 million (€43.5m-$55.9m) as of last Dec. 5. Potential investors were probably also discouraged by the disproportionate size of its head office and warehousing facilities, following a series of divestitures and store closings in the last few years.
The situation has since changed. The board of directors of Blacks Leisure Group said this morning that it has received final offers from several parties for all or some of its assets, but pointed out that any sale would have to follow an “administration process,” which is the British equivalent of bankruptcy proceedings. The situation is different now because creditors will have to give up some of their dues and the administrators may decide to reorganize the group by closing some of its costly facilities.
Blacks' board indicated this morning that the company should be in a position to announce a sale of the whole group or parts of it within the next few days. It said, however, that the group's subsidiaries will continue to operate at all outlets like before, and that their administrators will likely be appointed only after the decision is made as to who will take over the assets. This type of procedure is generally defined as a “pre-packaged admnistration.”
The identities of the candidates to the acquisition could not be determined. According to well-informed sources, ten parties have offered to take over most of the assets, but not all of them, and their list was narrowed down to only four by the time KPMG closed the bidding process yesterday. Two other major British sporting goods retailers, JD Sports Fashion and Sports Direct International, are among the candidates. Another bidder is Peter Jones, a telecommunication entrepreneur who is well-known in the U.K. as a star in a British reality TV show called Dragon's Den.
Trading in the company's shares on the London Stock Exchange has been suspended. The board has warned that no value will be attributable to the company's ordinary shares, nullifying the shareholdings that had been previously accumulated by the likes of Sports Direct and Pentland Group.
Pentland, which is JD's controlling shareholder and parent company of Berghaus, a major supplier of Blacks' stores, still owned 5.95 percent of the shares before Christmas. For its part, Sports Direct raised its stake in Blacks to 22.48 percent. It expressed interest in making an offer, but then it pulled back.
Several investors have been buying and selling shares, but there has been more selling than buying in the company's shares lately, and its stock price ended up at 1.25 pence just before the latest announcement, reducing Blacks' stock market capitalization to about £115,000 (€139.1-$178.5).
Blacks has warned that its sales were poor in the months leading up to Christmas, but it remains a major player with estimated annual sales of £150 million (€181.4m-$232.8m) through its 300-odd stores, which operate under the Blacks and Millets banners.