Ratner plotting £350m bid for Signet's UK arm

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The Independent Online

Gerald Ratner will step up his attempt to regain control of Signet's UK jewellery chains this week after securing funding for a bid worth up to £350m.

The businessman, who was drummed out of the jeweller in its previous incarnation after calling one of its products "crap", is adding up to £150m to his earlier £200m approach in the hope of persuading Signet's board to take him seriously.

He will write to Terry Burman, Signet's chief executive, this week asking for access to the jeweller's books. "We will say we have the financing to acquire the UK chains at around £350m, depending on what profit the companies are making," Mr Ratner said yesterday.

In the year up to January 2006, Signet's UK chains - H Samuel, Ernest Jones and Leslie Davis - reported operating profits of £49m. They lost £3.4m in the first half of the year - typical for a retailer that relies so heavily on Christmas trading. The group does not split out how much profit each of its chains make.

Mr Ratner said selling Signet's UK businesses would be in the best interests of its shareholders because it would allow management to focus on its US chains, Kay Jewelers and Jared, which dominate the group. "They can get rid of the part of the business that is going backwards," he added.

But Signet shareholders have yet to back Mr Ratner's bid plans. He has contacted a number of Signet's biggest investors, who have expressed concern that they would be selling out at the bottom of the cycle, given how tough UK retailers have found life over the past two years.

Mr Ratner, who is being advised by BDO Stoy Hayward, has secured backing from an unnamed private equity group and debt funding from Royal Bank of Scotland. His interest in H Samuel was initially rekindled when it emerged that Signet had held merger talks with its US rival, Zales, earlier this year. Apax Partners and KKR have also run their slide rules over the jeweller but had decided not to proceed with a bid.

A successful bid would mark Mr Ratner's return to a high street he was forced to abandon after denigrating the products sold at the group's UK outlets. The group, which was called Ratners after Mr Ratner's father who founded it, was later renamed Signet.

A spokesman for Signet said yesterday that the company had not received "any communications about a possible offer" from Mr Ratner.