IKEA near deal to purchase Habitat

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Speculation is growing that IKEA, the Swedish furniture store chain, is close to concluding a deal to buy Habitat, part of the Storehouse group, writes John Moore.

Habitat, founded by Sir Terence Conran in the 1960s, could be sold for about pounds 55m.

As reported in the Independent on Sunday, Storehouse said that IKEA had entered the bidding 'at the eleventh hour' when talks for another potential buyer, believed to be France's Au Printemps, were well under way.

Included in the sale are Habitat's UK and French chains, but not its US arm, which lost pounds 7.7m out of a total Habitat loss of pounds 8.8m last year.

Au Printemps is thought to have been mainly interested in acquiring Habitat France. City analysts argue that it is unlikely France would be sold without the UK side. Another potential bidder, Antah European Holdings, the Malaysian-owned private company that runs the 50-strong chain of Carpenters furniture shops in the south of England, is also understood to be out of the running.

In Britain, IKEA has stuck to a rigid format of large out-of-town stores, the latest of which will open in Croydon next month. IKEA stores specialise in clean-cut, low- budget furniture and household items aimed at the youthful, style- aware middle class.

Storehouse has been undergoing extensive management restructuring.