LONDON — Stuart Rose, the new chief executive of Marks & Spencer plc, wooed shareholders Monday with a cash promise of $4.28 billion (2.3 billion pounds) to rebuff a takeover attempt of the ailing retailer by billionaire tycoon Philip Green, who countered with his own appeal.
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As Rose, speaking publicly for the first time about his vision for the retailer, outlined a series of cost-cutting, margin-boosting strategies, Green asked shareholders during a conference call to pressure the company to open its books.
Most of the major shareholders will meet company executives this week to discuss Rose’s plan. In addition, Rose will address shareholders at M&S’ annual general meeting Wednesday. Green has shareholders representing at least 20 percent of M&S on his side. Now he wants the rest to step up and support him. British regulators have set an Aug. 6 deadline for Green to make a formal offer for the chain or give up his bid.
Analysts were stress-testing Rose’s numbers to see how they compared with Green’s 4 pounds per share. “Rose has given us good financial details, and we think he can deliver $7.81 [4.20 pounds] to $7.99 [4.30 pounds] per share,” said Rupert Trotter, an analyst at Isis Asset Management, an M&S shareholder. “Then again, there’s always the risk M&S won’t come through. We’re still adjusting our models, so no decisions today.”
Another leading institutional shareholder said: “If you take an optimistic look at what was said today, M&S has just about done enough to survive a bid by Green. But we need time to go through the numbers, because there’s a lot in there. We’re planning to meet the M&S people later this week.”
Richard England, a spokesman for Standard Life Investments, an M&S shareholder, said the company would make its final decision in the next couple of days.
“Our core customers have been neglected, confused and disappointed,’’ Rose said during a presentation to about 75 journalists at Canary Wharf. “There are too many segments, too many initiatives and not enough support for the core brand. The parts of this business are less than the whole.
“We now need to focus on the product — and the customer,” said Rose, 55, who began his career in the retailer’s food division and was picked to lead M&S six weeks ago after a boardroom shakeup in the wake of Green’s first moves in the takeover attempt.
Rose said he has no plans to step aside for Green. “This is a great, highly valued business and Philip Green knows it — otherwise he wouldn’t have come knocking three times,” Rose said after the presentation.
Last week, M&S rejected the latest — and final — bid proposal from Green, who offered $7.44 (4 pounds) per share in cash or $6.23 (3.35 pounds) per share, and a 30 percent equity stub in a new, publicly listed M&S business. M&S said it undervalued the store’s potential.
During a conference call on Monday night, Green said he could exercise due diligence in seven to 10 days, and formalize a bid before the deadline, but first needs to examine the retailer’s financial records.
“Time is running short,” Green said. “We are fully financed. This is the moment for shareholders to appeal to the M&S board, which has fobbed us off for six weeks. They now need to make their feelings known to M&S. Otherwise, we will have no alternative but to pack up and go away.”
Green provided the details of his latest bid — he has secured up to $20.64 billion (11.1 billion pounds) in financing — and offered up his broad vision for M&S. “The store environment needs an uplift, and the supply chain needs to be torn apart,’’ he said. “Speed to market is so important today.”
This is Green’s second run for the store since 2000. Green, a hands-on merchant and owner of the BHS and Arcadia clothing and general merchandise groups, was forced to drop his last bid after it was disclosed that his wife, Tina, had bought shares before the announcement that he planned to buy the store.
Rose said his plan would deliver value “in excess” of 4 pounds per share. “Six weeks ago, we sat down and said: ‘What is the art of the possible? What can we deliver?’ Here it is. Now it’s up to the analysts.”
Rose is seeking shareholders’ support as he tries to get the company back on its feet. The cash return to shareholders would come via a tender offer equivalent to $1.86 (1 pound) per share. The deal would be funded by the proceeds from the sale of M&S’ financial services arm to HSBC — also announced on Monday.
The Rose proposal is intended to produce savings of $465 million (250 million pounds) in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, and $595 million (320 million pounds) the following year from more favorable deals with suppliers, a more efficient supply chain, reduced clothing markdowns and lower food waste.
M&S has agreed to buy the successful Per Una women’s clothing line from its founder George Davies to pocket the profits directly. The line, which sells through M&S stores, generated $31.62 million (17 million pounds) in profits last year.
The store will also get a new campaign in September called “Your M&S” aimed at the 35 to 55 age group that Rose believes the store has sorely neglected. Other M&S projects will be axed. Lifestore, the much-touted home furnishings project masterminded by Vittorio Radice and launched earlier this year, will shut in January. The rollout of some stand-alone Simply Food stores will also be halted.
M&S said that trading in the first quarter rose 0.7 percent, with a decrease in every division except for food, which rose 3.9 percent. Clothing sales dropped 0.5 percent and the home dipped 12.8 percent.
Gateshead, the Lifestore flagship that has as its centerpiece a home designed by John Pawson, will be shuttered by the end of January. Kingston, a smaller unit, will open as a home furnishings store while the unit in Thurrock has been canceled.
Rose also announced that the recently revalued M&S property portfolio is now worth $6.69 billion (3.6 billion pounds), or $2.6 billion (1.4 billion pounds) above its book value.