Green still wants Sears despite investor handout

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The Independent Online
PHILIP GREEN, the retail entrepreneur stalking Sears, is still interested in launching a formal bid for the company and will reveal his hand in the next few days. The news came after Sears announced a downbeat Christmas trading statement and the sale of its Creation store card.

It has sold the former Sears Card operation to two French banks for pounds 141m. Sears shareholders will receive a special payment of 141p per share, a far higher figure than earlier estimates. Sears also said it was in discussions over the sale of a number of properties with net book value of pounds 134m.

Although Sears seemed confident that it had "spiked Mr Green's guns", the entrepreneur appeared undaunted. "They've given money to everyone else so it's about time they gave some to the shareholders," he said. "But it doesn't change anything. We are studying the position. I will be discussing the situation with my advisers and we'll take it from there."

Mr Green has just returned to Britain after spending the Christmas holidays abroad. He has already had a 340p approach rejected as the Sears board felt it had too many conditions attached. However, it is by no means certain that Mr Green will raise his price.

As one analyst commented: "Given the Sears management track record so far, would you rather have 340p or 141p for the company in April and leave them in charge?"

Sears has sold its Creation Financial Services division to Groupe Cofinoga and Banque National de Paris. The pounds 141m price tag was higher than earlier expectations of pounds 110m to pounds 120m.

Sears's trading statement showed that the group is continuing to suffer from fragile consumer confidence and a weak portfolio of formats. In the 23 weeks to 9 January its clothing division, which takes in Miss Selfridge, Richards and Adams childrenswear, saw sales increase by 5 per cent on last year, but fall by 1 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Over the same period sales at Freemans, Sears's mail-order operation, fell by 5 per cent.

Mr Green had been waiting to see the trading update before deciding on his next move. His key challenge is to win over Sears's major shareholder, Phillips & Drew, which holds 24 per cent.

The entrepreneur has bought or sold 21 UK businesses in the past 13 years, including the purchase in 1997 of Sears's Shoe Express footwear chain. Sears had 2.6 per cent of the UK clothing market in 1997.

Sears shares closed 25p higher at 310.5p