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Selfridges’ Bid in Sight

LONDON — The race for Selfridges is on — and the finish line could already be in sight.<br><br>Non-executive directors at Selfridges, the British department store turned takeover target, have been locked in talks aimed at recommending a...

LONDON — The race for Selfridges is on — and the finish line could already be in sight.

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Non-executive directors at Selfridges, the British department store turned takeover target, have been locked in talks aimed at recommending a final bid to shareholders. Sources say their choice of bidder could come as early as this week.

“They want this to be an effective process, but not a protracted one,” one source told WWD. The source added that a final decision on which bid to recommend could come within days rather than weeks.

A Selfridges spokeswoman said, “We are being advised by Merrill Lynch. We have a rigorous process to handle interest in this company, and are fully aware of our obligations.” She declined, however, to comment on any specific timetables or bidders.

As reported, Selfridges had given all bidders a deadline of Tuesday to submit their proposals, although the company never confirmed there was any set deadline. The feeding frenzy over Selfridges erupted last month when the department store said it had been approached by an unnamed party — believed to be the Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter — about a takeover.

On Wednesday, sources said only two bidders, Hunter and Peter Williams, the chief executive of Selfridges who is reportedly putting together a management buyout, made the May 6 deadline.

“We have fully complied with the process as set out by the Selfridges board and we await with a great deal of interest their deliberations,” said a spokesman for Hunter. Williams, who replaced Vittorio Radice last year as chief executive, declined to comment.

According to sources, Hunter’s bid is in the range of $5.28 to $5.60 a share for the company’s 154,404,935 outstanding shares quoted on the London Stock Exchange. That bid would value Selfridges at between $815 million and $865 million, based on current exchange rates.

For his part, Williams is thought to be contemplating a bid that would value the company at $880 million.

Shares in Selfridges closed Wednesday at $5.73, up 6 cents.

Other interested parties in the department store retailer are said to include Robert Tchenguiz, an Iranian property tycoon who is reported to have put together a $928 million bid on behalf of his Rotch Property Group; Simon and David Reuben, who trade in metals and property, and Galen Weston, the Canadian billionaire who owns Holt Renfrew in Canada and Brown Thomas in Dublin. A spokeswoman for Tchenguiz confirmed there was interest in Selfridges, but declined further comment.

So why all the interest in Selfridges now? Industry observers say the store is in growth mode — and a property investor’s dream.

“I really think Selfridges offers a combination of commercial strength and assets,” said George Wallace, chief executive at Management Horizons, the retail consultancy based here. “There is scope for expansion, good earnings potential and extremely valuable property.”

Indeed, while Hunter’s spokesman would not be drawn on the reasons for his interest in Selfridges, sources said the Scotsman wants the store for its “long-term growth opportunity and combined portfolio of retail and property.” Hunter has a history of building and acquiring retail businesses, and his plan is to rapidly expand West Coast Capital, his U.K.-based private equity company.

Last month, Hunter announced the purchase for an estimated $21 million to $28 million of Office Holdings, which includes the Office, Offspring, Post and Poste Mistress footwear stores, including a concession in the London department store Harvey Nichols.

Selfridges boasts a flagship on Oxford Street, a hotel and parking facilities, as well as two stores in Manchester and another state-of-the-art unit that will open in September in Birmingham. Earlier this year, the company said it had secured a prime site in Glasgow for a future unit.

In addition, the store is seeking municipal approval to add more space to its Oxford Street site with an injection of approximately $480 million. Sources say the Oxford Street site alone is currently worth more than $800 million.

Maureen Hinton, a senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, a consultancy based here, called Selfridges a prime piece of property and a market leader. “There’s a lot of activity in the retail market right now, so I’m not at all surprised that so many bidders have emerged,” she said.

“It’s a good investment for both the retail investors and the property ones. You can’t really lose with it. The challenge for anyone, though, is how do you keep driving Selfridges forward?”

The company announced earlier this year that net profit rose 7.6 percent to $44.2 million from $41 million for the fiscal year ended Feb. 2.

The rise in profits follows a 10.6 percent rise in sales to $694 million from $627.4 million. The company said all key merchandise groups posted a sales rise, including men’s wear, which rose 14 percent; cosmetics, 8 percent, and women’s wear, 7 percent.