March 21, 2019 / 9:49 AM / a year ago

Sports Direct repeats call for Debenhams meeting after first request stumbles

LONDON (Reuters) - Sports Direct, the British sportswear firm run by Mike Ashley that is pushing for control of Debenhams, has requested a meeting of the struggling department store chain’s shareholders for a second time, after its original request failed.

FILE PHOTO: Mike Ashley, founder and majority shareholder of sportswear retailer Sports Direct, leads journalists on a factory tour after the company's AGM, at the company's headquarters in Shirebrook, Britain, September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

Sports Direct said on Thursday it had requisitioned a general meeting of Debenhams investors to appoint Ashley to the board and remove all current board members other than Chief Financial Officer Rachel Osborne.

It said in a statement to the stock exchange that its first request on March 7 was invalid because at the time Sports Direct held its Debenhams shares through a third party nominee.

“Sports Direct would like the matter of Debenhams board appointments to be put to the vote of the Debenhams shareholders as soon as possible,” it said.

The initial administrative mistake restarts the clock on Debenhams’ response to the request. Debenhams has 21 days to respond and it then has to give 28 days’ notice of a meeting.

Sports Direct is Debenhams’ biggest shareholder with a near 30 percent stake.

Debenhams has issued a string of profit warnings and lost 87 percent of its market value in the past year.

Billionaire Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United soccer club, made his fortune from building Sports Direct. More recently he has snapped up stakes in other chains hit by the rapid shift online and subdued consumer spending.

He said this month he was willing to step down as CEO of Sports Direct if he could get the top job at Debenhams.

Last week, he offered Debenhams a 150 million pound ($197 million) loan, which it is considering. Debenhams is also working on its own restructuring that analysts expect to include a share issue and an acceleration of a store closure plan.

Debenhams’ shares were up 2.4 percent at 1228 GMT, while Sports Direct’s were down 1.8 percent.

A Sports Direct executive told the Financial Times this week it would seek to buy Debenhams if the department store chain collapsed into administration.

($1 = 0.7617 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey in London and Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru, Editing by Anil D'Silva, Bernard Orr

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