LONDON — British retail tycoon Mike Ashley is walking away from Mulberry after building up a stake so high that he was forced to make a bid, or leave the company be. But he could be back next year.
Ashley’s Frasers Group said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Thursday that it does not intend to make an offer for the British accessories brand.
As reported, Ashley had been given until Dec. 17 to make an offer or cease stockpiling shares in the company, which is majority owned by Christina Ong. Ashley’s Frasers Group has a 37 percent stake in the company.
Mulberry declined to comment.
It’s not the end of the dance between Ashley and Mulberry, however.
The Frasers statement said that the company reserves the right to make or participate in an offer, or possible offer for Mulberry, within six months of Dec. 17, with the agreement of the board of Mulberry; if a third party makes an offer for the company, or if the main Mulberry shareholders decide to take over the company.
Last month, Frasers confirmed that it had been mulling a cash offer for Mulberry, which was founded by Roger Saul in Somerset, England, in 1971, and which is majority owned by the Singaporean billionaire Ong, who holds a 56 percent stake.
Frasers acquired its stake from the now defunct Kaupthing bank for 1.50 pounds a share. Frasers Group, formerly known as Sports Direct International, began amassing its stake in Mulberry earlier this year.
Under normal circumstances, Frasers would have to have launched a mandatory cash offer for the brand last month after hitting the 30 percent threshold of ownership, but the company had been given a dispensation due to the fact that Mulberry has a single, controlling shareholder in Ong’s company, Challice Ltd.
Ong is also the owner of the Club 21 luxury retail company and of Como Hotels and Resorts, and she owns properties on London’s Bond Street.
The remainder of the Mulberry shares are quoted on the London Stock Exchange, and closed down 11.1 percent at 2.13 pounds on Thursday.
Last month, industry sources had said the shares were undervalued, so it’s doubtful that Ong would make any moves now. Ong, who was already a sizable shareholder in Mulberry, took control of the company in 2003 following a spat with Saul that saw him ousted as chairman and chief executive officer of the brand.
Known as the Grim Reaper of the high street, Ashley specializes in buying stakes in distressed companies, or companies such as Mulberry, which sell through his retail chains. Ashley also part-owns the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.
He is said to be among the bidders for Debenhams and Arcadia, both of which filed for bankruptcy late last month.