May 13, 2020
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Could £300m football club sale release investment cash for Frasers Group?

May 13, 2020

There's speculation that a successful sale of Newcastle United football club for £300 million could release cash for Frasers Group boss Mike Ashley to invest into the retail business and even to buy more distressed brands.

Sports Direct

The retail tycoon is believed to be close to accepting an offer from a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium for the football club.

The Evening Standard cited city observers saying they think that the proceeds could be invested into the retail group that includes the House of Fraser department stores chain, the Sports Direct business, plus Flannels luxury stores, the Jack Wills chain and other operations.

Ashley has been an enthusiastic buyer of distressed retailers (including HoF and Jack Wills), and there’s a belief that the crisis caused by the coronavirus could present him with plenty of opportunities to continue doing so.

However, with Frasers Group shares having fallen by half this year, his room to manoeuvre would have been more limited without the Newcastle sale.

There has been speculation that he could be interested in buying Footasylum, which rival JD sports has been told to sell by the competition authorities. It's also believed he’s been interested in buying footwear chain Office, in competition with JD sports that has also shown an interest.

That said, a number of analysts also suggested that his main focus could be boosting the financial health of his existing properties. CMC Markets analyst David Madden said: “Mike Ashley has a track record of snapping up failing high street businesses, but given the pain that traditional retailers are enduring on account of the lockdown, I doubt he will be quick to rush out and spend his cash. I’d imagine he will use the cash to ensure liquidity for existing operations, and potentially earmark some for expansion.”

Analyst Richard Hyman added that there will be plenty of coronavirus retail casualties to look at. “There will be virtually no competition to buy these and I have no doubt that Mike Ashley will be looking at most of them,” he said. “The key is sorting the wheat from the chaff. This is less critical in a growth market but will be fundamental in the market we are about to enter — one that will be declining fast. No wriggle room if you back the wrong horse.”

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