Administrators trawl through wreckage of Woolworths

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Administrators were today sifting through the wreckage of Woolworths on another day of misery for the UK retail sector.

Deloitte is hunting for a buyer for the business and has received approaches from "a number of parties" over the 813-store retail chain and the firm's E.UK wholesaling arm in the past 24 hours.

The stores will stay open over the festive season but doubts remain over the future of the 99-year-old retailer's 30,000 staff.

Deloitte reorganisation services partner Dan Butters said: "We are working hard to ensure that any sale of the business, in whole or part, will preserve jobs."

Woolies' woes came amid news the owner of Currys and PC World had slumped almost £30 million into the red, while sales collapsed at DIY giant B&Q. Furniture chain MFI went into administration yesterday.

Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "The eye of the storm has moved on from the banks to the retailers."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We are determined to help people who are facing job difficulties, whether it is at Woolworths or at any other company. We will step in quickly to help people get new jobs."

Woolworths went into administration in the early hours of this morning after rescue attempts fell through. Its 2 Entertain publishing joint venture with BBC Worldwide and Bertram Books wholesaling arms are still trading.

Deloitte's reorganisation services partner Neville Kahn said: "Woolworths has suffered a number of cash flow problems. Strenuous efforts over recent weeks to keep these companies going have unfortunately failed."

DSG International, which owns PC World and Currys, saw shares tumble by as much as 16% today as it warned of a "tough and volatile" retail climate and a 7 per cent fall in comparative sales.

Its underlying losses of £29.8m in the 24 weeks to 18 October compared with a £52.4m profit the previous year - an £80m swing.

Meanwhile, retail group Kingfisher said sales at its B&Q business were down nearly 9 per cent amid the slump in consumer spending and a plunging housing market.

The like-for-like figure - based on those stores trading for more than a year - reflected a 14 per cent slide in sales of kitchen and bathroom units and poor demand for seasonal ranges following poor weather in August.

Total revenues for the B&Q division fell 7.8 per cent to £887m in the 13 weeks to 1 November.

Chief executive Ian Cheshire said: "Consumer confidence has clearly been shaken over the last few months by international economic events and this has impacted demand in all our markets."

Other firms feeling the squeeze of a clampdown in spending included travel specialist Holidaybreak.

Fewer hit theatre shows and cuts in consumer spending have dented city break bookings, although the Cheshire-based group's camping division is booming as families look for cheap holidays and trips with relatively low environmental impact.

Holidaybreak's camping division achieved its highest profit for several years in the year to 30 September, at £13.8m.