Chinese group acquires Britain's House of Fraser

LONDON (AFP) - Chinese conglomerate Sanpower has agreed to buy a majority stake in British department store House of Fraser in a deal worth £480 million (S$1 billion), according to a joint statement.

Sanpower, a Nanjing-based conglomerate listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, will acquire an 89 percent stake in the 165-year-old British brand through its Nanjing Cenbest subsidiary.

Sanpower's founder and chairman, Yuan Yafei, said the deal was the largest overseas acquisition in the retail sector by a Chinese business, and a "landmark transaction".

He expressed his intention to expand House of Fraser overseas, particularly in China. The group currently has 60 stores across Britain and Ireland and one in Abu Dhabi.

"House of Fraser is a strong and iconic heritage brand in the UK and abroad, with exceptional fashion credentials," the 49-year-old Chinese businessman said.

"The management team has done an incredible job moving this business from a traditional department store to a recognised premium branded fashion retailer with a first-class multichannel offering.

"We have always been looking to invest in strong brands like House of Fraser, and take them to the next level of growth." The British company's executive chairman, Don McCarthy, said the takeover opened an "extremely exciting chapter". He will be stepping down once the deal is completed.

He added that the sale, which is expected to take four months to be finalised, would end plans to list House of Fraser on the London Stock Exchange.

"The acquisition by Nanjing Cenbest will allow House of Fraser's management team to continue to grow and invest in the business in the UK and Ireland, provide a strong platform from which to expand the brand in international markets and to further develop our multichannel, stores and premium fashion offering," Mr McCarthy said.

The company, which went private in 2006, said it did not expect any day-to-day changes for the 7,300 company and 12,000 concession staff in its stores.

In the statement, House of Fraser also confirmed reports that Mike Ashley, the founder of retail group Sports Direct and owner of Newcastle United football club, was trying to buy an 11 percent stake.

It said that if the deal goes ahead, the new shareholder "loses the right to a board position", suggesting that Ashley would have no say in the company's strategic direction.

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