Sears set for break-up as Green's pounds 548m bid is agreed

THE CURTAIN came down on one of the high street's longest running disaster stories yesterday when Sears, the struggling retail group, succumbed to an agreed pounds 548m bid which is likely to see the once-sprawling conglomerate broken up into its constituent parts.

Late yesterday afternoon the Sears board accepted an increased cash offer of 359p per share from a consortium led by Philip Green, the retail entrepreneur and backed by the secretive Barclay brothers. This follows its rejection of an earlier 340p per share offer.

Phillips & Drew, Sears' largest shareholder with a 22.3 per cent stake, has irrevocably agreed to accept the bid from January Investments, the Barclays' bid vehicle.

However, this agreement will cease to be binding in the event of a competing offer of more than 360p.

The deal includes all Sears' businesses, which span Freemans mail order and a string of high street chains including Miss Selfridge, Adams, Richards, Wallis and Warehouse. Mr Green is expected to line up an early sale of Freemans, possibly to Otto Versand of Germany, for around pounds 150m. The Creation charge-card business will still be sold for pounds 141m.

Mr Green was in an upbeat mood yesterday after his victory. Speaking from the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he has been staying during the bid battle, he said: "It's been a long two weeks. I'm tired but happy that we've got there in the end. I think we would have got there at 340p to be honest, but it was worth going that extra mile."

Mr Green had dinner with Sir Bob Reid, the Sears chairman, at the Dorchester on Wednesday night, where they agreed terms.

Mr Green said that their meal was "very cordial". The final points were agreed yesterday by separate negotiating teams at Sears' head office. "The increased offer represents a fair deal for shareholders and is in line with the board's strategy to return value to them," Sir Bob said.

This was ridiculed by analysts. One said: "It is pathetic but will we miss Sears? No we won't. Good riddance to it."

In addition to Sears, Mr Green's retail interests include the Mark One discount clothing chain, Owen Owen department stores and Shoe Express, bought from Sears.

He also brokered the deal which saw Sports Division buy Olympus Sports from Sears for a knock-down price.

Mr Green will have a 20 per cent stake in Sears but says that he has no plans to return to the stock market: "That's not my best vocation."

Sears' shares closed 7p higher at 354.5p.

Outlook, page 17

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