March 5, 2019 / 8:10 AM / 4 months ago

Debenhams warns on profit again as restructuring looms

(Reuters) - Debenhams warned on profit again on Tuesday, as the British department store group edged nearer to a restructuring that analysts expect will include a share issue and an acceleration of its store closure plans.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past the Debenhams department store on Oxford Street in London, Britain December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

Shares in Debenhams, which has struggled to keep pace with consumers moving online and to cheaper rivals, fell as much as 12 percent after the retailer said it was no longer on track to hit previous profit guidance. The shares have lost more than 89 percent year-on-year.

The share price slump reflects a structural shift in British retail towards online shopping, subdued consumer spending and upheaval for department stores. Last year, House of Fraser went bust and market leader John Lewis issued a profit warning.

Nearly 30 percent of Debenhams shares are owned by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, which last year purchased House of Fraser out of administration and in January forced out Debenhams’ chairman.

Last month, Debenhams got a lifeline when it secured 40 million pound of extra funding from lenders ahead of a wider restructuring of its balance sheet.

The company said talks on the restructuring were “continuing constructively”. But Debenhams also said the process was likely to be disruptive to its business in the coming months.

The retailer said this disruption, plus macroeconomic uncertainties and increased financing costs due to additional working capital needs, meant profit for its year to end-August 2019 would fall short of previous guidance.

In January, Debenhams had said it was on track to make a profit of 8.2 million pounds, down from 33.2 million pounds in 2017-18.

The group is valued on the London stock exchange at 37.6 million pounds and its net debt was 286 million pounds as of Jan. 5.

CVA IMMINENT?

“Debenhams is clearly working towards a longer-term solution, which we believe will include a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and an equity fundraise,” analysts at Peel Hunt said, adding that they expected details to emerge soon. They forecast a full year loss of 30 million pounds.

A CVA would allow Debenhams to accelerate store closures and cut its rent bill.

Debenhams Chief Executive Sergio Bucher said he still expected the restructuring process to lead to around 50 stores closing in “the medium term”.

“We will need the support of both landlords and local authorities to address our rents, rates and lease commitments,” he said.

The company currently trades from 165 stores in Britain.

Debenhams would need creditor and landlord approval for a CVA. These arrangements have been adopted by other British retailers, including fashion chain New Look, floor coverings retailer Carpetright, mother-and-baby goods company Mothercare and home improvements chain Homebase.

But CVAs are no guarantee of survival. Toys r Us UK and Bhs both carried them out but still went out of business.

Debenhams is due to publish first half results next month.

On Tuesday it reported group gross transaction value (GTV) for the 26 weeks to March 2 down 5.4 percent, with like-for-like sales down 5.3 percent. It said a programme to save 80 million pounds of costs was on track.

Debenhams shares were down 3.8 percent at 3.1 pence at 12.40 GMT.

Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru and James Davey in London; Editing by Bernard Orr/Alexander Smith/Jane Merriman

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