Ex Marks & Spencer supplier counts cost of dot.com foray

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The Independent Online

The former Marks & Spencer shoe supplier Fii Group was counting the cost of a disastrous attempt to reinvent itself as a New Economy growth stock yesterday when its shares lost more than 80 per cent of their value after a year-long suspension.

The shares collapsed to just 18p compared with 101p at the time of suspension in August 2000. Fii, which makes the Lotus and Frank Wright brands of shoes, reported increased losses of £7.9m for the year to May, an £18m pension fund deficit and the write-off of its £3m investment in an internet business. The company said it would like to sell its remaining shoe interests but did not think it would be able to find a buyer. It remains open to offers regarding a reverse takeover, it said.

Noel Jervis, the chairman, admitted that the company had paid the penalty for trying to jump on the dot.com bandwagon. "I wouldn't disagree with that. We had a number of investors who were supportive of us going down that route and helped us go down it. But there's no point looking back and saying who's to blame. We all failed."

Fii decided to transform itself in 1999 when it lost a lucrative Marks & Spencer shoe contract and was forced to close a shoe factory in Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan. Its attempts to merge with a hi-tech company called Xtempus failed when the company merged with a rival at a lower price. Fii then attempted a reverse takeover of a business to business exchange company called NRX. This resulted in the suspension of Fii's shares, though the deal collapsed when NRX floated on AIM. Fii is now left as a small footwear company with net assets of just £4.5m.