Barclays cleared for £590m GUS catalogue deal

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The Independent Online

Fresh from the triumph of buying The Daily Telegraph, the Barclays brothers' £590m acquisition of the home shopping business of GUS was cleared by regulators yesterday.

GUS sold its home catalogue business to the Barclay brothers last year but insisted they bought it unconditionally. The Barclays already owned the large Littlewoods catalogue business, so the acquisition meant the brothers took on the risk of the deal being blocked, which would have forced a fire-sale of the business.

The deal was duly referred to the Competition Commission but the watchdog gave it the green light yesterday. The news saved 19,000 jobs, according to the Transport & General Workers Union, which applauded the decision.

David Simons, chairman of the Barclays' acquisition vehicle, March UK, said "there was no plan B" for the possibility of the deal being barred. "We were so convinced of the strength of our argument, genuinely believed that it was so powerful, that we did not create a parachute for ourselves," he said.

The deal gives the Barclays 73 per cent of the "agency" mail order sector - where people buy only on credit - according to Verdict, the retail consultancy, and 28 per cent of the broader mail order market, which includes direct catalogues. The GUS mail order catalogues include Additions, Abound, Choice, Kays, Marshall Ward and Great Universal.

Littlewoods Home Shopping has about 13,000 employees. Its main catalogue titles are Littlewoods, an agency catalogue, and Littlewoods Extra, a direct catalogue.

Clearance for the transaction relied principally on two arguments. First, GUS argued the relevant market to look at was the whole of the non-food retail sector, not just mail order. In this context, the enlarged March UK business would have less than 2 per cent share.

Second, GUS told the Competition Commission that it could find no others buyers for the business and that if the Barclays had not come along, its home catalogue division would have been closed down altogether.

Mr Simons said the combined business would now be modernised, with more frequent catalogues, better targeted distribution and more products on offer. "Home shopping is the ultimate in convenience," he said.