Company of the Week: Sears

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The Independent Online
SEARS, the clothing retailer, rejected a pounds 519m offer from a group led by the Barclay family and entrepreneur Philip Green. The offer was accepted by Phillips & Drew Fund Management, Sears' largest shareholder.

Sears shares soared 34p, or nearly 11 per cent, to 344.5p, overtaking January Investment's offer of 340p; Sears said the offer "significantly undervalues" the company. JIL, chaired by Aidan Barclay, said it won't revise the offer unless Sears attracts other bidders or proposes an accord.

Mr Green was rebuffed by Sears in December after offering the same amount for the retailer through a separate company. Phillips & Drew's immediate acceptance this time suggests that his bid could be successful. "Mr Green has some powerful backing and has taken the risk of going hostile and high profile," said Nick Bubb, an analyst at SG Securities. "It's a fair offer and it will be very difficult for Sears to fight it off."

The offer from JIL is for the company as it stands, including the Creation credit-card business, which Sears said yesterday it had agreed to sell to Group Cofinoga and Banque Nationale de Paris for pounds 141m.

Sears advised its shareholders to take no action on the bid, adding it will make a full response once the offer document has been posted. It tried to entice shareholders with the promise of a 141p-per-share payment through a special dividend after agreeing to sell the credit-card unit.

Phillips & Drew, which owns 22.3 percent of Sears, went for JIL's offer instead. It agreed to back the bid with 13.75 per cent of Sears' shares, the maximum allowable at this point under Takeover Panel rules. It indicated it will accept the offer for the rest of its stake as soon as it can.

The Barclay family's interests include London's Ritz hotel and casino and the Scotsman and Sunday Business newspapers. Mr Green has bought and sold some 21 UK businesses in the past 13 years, include Sears' Shoe Express division in 1997.

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