Wickes to stop expansion abroad

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The Independent Online
Wickes, the troubled DIY group, is expected to abandon its overseas operations as part of a business plan that will be unveiled in the group's rescue rights issue prospectus next week.

The decision to concentrate solely on the UK will mark the end of former chairman Henry Sweetbaum's international ambitions, which saw the company open stores in South Africa, Belgium, France and Holland as well as a conservatory business in the US.

Last year's annual report contained a statement by Mr Sweetbaum which boasted of his belief that the "opportunity exists to develop the Wickes concept around the world".

It is expected that these operations will be sold to concentrate on the 120 UK stores. Wickes has 21 stores in Holland, 19 in Belgium, three in South Africa and two in France.

Next week's document will also include the restated 1995 accounts, the results for the first six months of 1996 and a trading forecast for the rest of this year.

It is likely the group will confirm it has completed negotiations with suppliers on new terms. These are likely to cause additional provisions, which is one reason why the rights issue figure has been increased from pounds 30m to pounds 50m. A new non-executive director will also be announced.

The rights issue document will alert possible bidders to pore over the figures for Wickes, which include Ready Mixed Concrete and Kingfisher, which will report booming third-quarter sales figures at its B&Q DIY subsidiary today.

Analysts think the buoyant DIY market and the possibility of takeover action will prove persuasive to investors. "I think people will grumble, but cough up the cash," says Nick Bubb at Mees Pierson.