Qatar mulls bid for British retail icon Marks & Spencer

LONDON (AFP) - Qatar is considering an 8 billion-pound (S$15.1 billion) bid for British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S), according to Britain's Sunday Times.

The Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, has approached leading banks and private equity houses ahead of a potential move on the high street chain, senior sources in London's financial industry told the broadsheet.

M&S, which sells clothes, food and homeware, was founded in 1884 and was once one of the world's most profitable retailing company. But it has struggled from poor clothing sales in recent years. Its sales over the last quarter sank 1.8 per cent compared to the previous year.

Shares in the retailer closed at 372.5 pence on Friday, giving it a value of 6 billion pounds.

Qatar has a growing commercial and property empire in Britain. Its government bought luxury retailer Harrods in 2010, and it owns a 26 per cent stake in Britain's third-largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury's. Qatar also financed 95 per cent of the construction of the Shard, western Europe's tallest skyscraper and has a stake in Barclays bank.

M&S has more than 700 stores across Britain, as well as over 400 stores in 44 countries across the world.