Friday, 1 August 2014

Office weighs £300m float for 2015 - or will Ashley step back in

Remember that bizarre statement that Mike Ashley's Sports Direct put out a few weeks ago regarding shoe retailer Office?

In case you don't, here is a link a to it:

Basically, Sports Direct denied it was in talks to buy Office, which was once owned by Sir Tom Hunter's West Coast Capital. The odd thing was that there didn't appear to be a newspaper report claiming the FTSE company had approached Office, a privately-owned business. Sports Direct appeared to responding to industry speculation (or questions from reporters).

Now, I am starting to understand why Sports Direct might have made that statement.

Good sources tell me Silverfleet, the private equity firm that owns Office, is on the verge of appointing bankers from JP Morgan to prepare the company for a flotation or sale next year.

According to my sources, the company generates around £40m in EBITDA, so Office is likely to come to the market in 2015 with a valuation of around £300m.

The theory, and this is just a theory, is that once Ashley got wind of Silverfleet's move to appoint advisers to Office he decided to put out the bizarre statement to the market.

What Ashley hoped to achieve from that statement remains unclear although some observers believe it might have been a hard-nosed negotiating tactic.

However, people familiar with Sports Direct's thinking tell me the reason the company put out the weird statement was to do with business's row with Adidas and concerns the German company would cut supplies to the footwear chain if and when Ashley's outfit tried to buy Office. Indeed, Adidas has already pulled its Originals range out of Sports Direct's fashion chain USC.

Since then, Sports Direct has been reported to be participating in the auction to buy AS Adventure - a European retailer that owns Cotswold Outdoor - from Lion Capital for EURO 300m.

Here is a link to a piece from Mark Kleinman of Sky News reporting Sports Direct's interest in AS Adventure:

I am told that the AS Adventure auction process, which is being run by NM Rothschild, is in the final stages so we should find relatively soon whether Ashley has moved on from Office.

Silverfleet and Sports Direct declined to comment.

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