House of Fraser eyes return to the stock market

Department store chain House of Fraser (HoF), owner of Edinburgh institution Jenners, is considering a possible return to the stock market after an absence of more than seven years.
Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA

The 161-year-old business, which has been the subject of takeover interest in the past year, could be valued at between £200 million and £300m if a flotation goes ahead.

Chairman Don McCarthy and his family hold a 20 per cent stake in the business, with a further 49 per cent in the hands of representatives of failed Icelandic banks, who took control of the shares when previous owner Baugur collapsed in 2009.

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Founded in 1849 as a drapery shop on the corner of Argyle Street and Buchanan Street in Glasgow, the chain now has 61 stores across the UK and Ireland, covering almost five million square feet of selling space, and generated sales of £1.2 billion last year. The firm employs 7,300 people directly as well as 12,000 concession staff.

HoF is believed to have held takeover talks in recent months with Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley and the Qatari royal family, but is now considering a possible return to public ownership.

In 2006, it was snapped up by a group of investors led by Jon Asgeir Johannesson’s Baugur Group in a £350m deal backed by HBOS. Other chains in the Baugur portfolio at the time included toy store Hamleys and frozen foods chain Iceland.

Reports yesterday said the float plans were being led by veteran retailer McCarthy, but are at an early stage and may come to nothing. Other major shareholders include entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and Lloyds Banking Group, which inherited its stake after merging with HBOS in 2009.

A spokesman for Hunter, who made his fortune when he sold his Sports Division chain to rival JJB, said the tycoon would not comment. Lloyds also remained tight-lipped.

HoF recently unveiled record sales and profits in the face of “difficult” market conditions as it benefited from the boom in internet shopping. The chain posted a gross profit of £403.8m for the year to 26 January, an ­increase of 4.3 per cent on the previous year.

Sales grew 3.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis to £1.2bn, boosted by a 53 per cent jump in online takings, which account for almost 11 per cent of the total.

Along with rivals including John Lewis and Next, HoF has been revamping its online offering and customers can now shop for more than 1,300 brands via its website.

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In a bid to grab a larger slice of the internet shopping market, the firm is introducing deliveries seven days a week, with shoppers who buy goods online before midnight able to receive them between 6pm and 10pm the next day. HoF is also planning to introduce same day deliveries to selected branches by Christmas, allowing customers to order online until 11am and pick up their items from 5pm.

HoF listed on the stock market in 1948 and bought London department store Harrods in 1959. It remained a public company until 1985, when it was bought by Mohamed Al Fayed in a £615m deal.

The chain returned to the market in 1994, although Al Fayed retained the separate Harrods business before selling it to the Qatari royal family for £1.5bn three years ago.

HoF did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.