Jane Norman 'on verge of administration'

Other high street retailers struggle to pay their rents in the cruelest quarter of the year
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The Independent Online

Jane Norman, the high street fashion chain, is expected to be put into administration today as other retailers struggled to pay their rents on time this weekend.

Edinburgh Woollen Mills is the favourite to buy Jane Norman's 90 shops, stock and name. But Debenhams and Aurora Fashions, as well as the private equity group Sun Capital Partners, are still interested.

Jane Norman, which has debts of £140m, is one of several high street names facing the consequences of the economic downturn.

Clinton Cards, which has issued two profit warnings this year, is rumoured to be sounding out private equity investors to back a £30m management buyout of the listed retailer. And on Friday, Jane Norman asked some of its landlords if it could delay the rent due on its stores, by three weeks in some cases, while in others it asked to pay weekly.

Jane Norman was not alone. Landlords have also received requests from the Jaeger fashion brand, which has approached some of them asking to delay rental payments until mid-July to help its cash flow. Jaeger, owned by Harold Tillman, was put up for sale earlier this year.

Some landlords have also had talks with the Aurum jewellery chain over changes to its rent payments.

Owners of shops and shopping centres across Britain are poised to appoint bailiffs to collect debts from retailers which haven't paid their rent by the middle of this week.

In a survey by The Independent on Sunday, the major listed property companies and smaller landlords were set to appoint bailiffs by Wednesday to collect debts from any business that had not paid the rent that was owing.

Rents for business premises in England are often still due on the four old English quarter days. Midsummer Day on 24 June is one of the toughest for retailers. A slow and difficult three months has meant many are running out of cash.

Rent collectors at Jones Lang LaSalle have said that June is a notoriously difficult month in which to receive payments on time. Traditionally, December and March rent days have had a better rate of payment due to stronger takings in the run-up to Christmas and Easter.

However, many retailers now pay rent monthly, so payments can be spread more evenly over the year.

DTZ's published rent collection data shows that this year's March quarter day (Lady Day) had seen a higher percentage of rent collections than the previous year, but it warned the rest of the year will be tough.

The high street is already reeling from the news that Hilco, the owner of Habitat, has sold its three London stores and the Habitat name in the UK to the Homebase owner Home Retail Group. This means the future of its remaining 30 stores in Britain hangs in the balance after it was placed into administration on Friday.

The CBI's retail sales index fell to its weakest level in a year last week, showing that shoppers have held back on purchases. Retailers have said they expect July to be "flat" at best.

Clinton Cards, which declined to comment on the potential management buy out, trades from 645 Clinton Cards shops and 157 Birthdays stores. Run by the Lewin family, Clinton Cards bought the Birthdays brand in 2004 for £46.4m. In early 2009 Birthdays was put into administration but later that year 196 shops were bought back by Clinton.