Arcadia sale rumours rumble on despite firm denials
Stories around Sir Philip Green’s intentions for the Arcadia Group stores that he controls continue to surface in the UK but one thing is clear - we won’t know the truth of what’s happening until Arcadia decides to tell us.
The latest report is that Sir Philip had previously asked banking giant HSBC to help him find a buyer for parts of the group with the most valuable brands, Topshop and Topman, potentially being sold separately. The Sunday Times this weekend also suggested that the other Arcadia brands (which include Wallis, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Evans and Dorothy Perkins) could be harder to find a buyer for and may need to be sold off individually.
The newspaper had in its previous Sunday edition claimed that Arcadia and Shandong Ruyi had held talks on a sale. That report was strenuously denied by both parties.
This time it cited a leaked email written by HSBC exec David Barraclough, talking about Arcadia sale discussions back in 2016. Barraclough had said Sir Philip was prepared to meet “any Chinese prospective buyer we consider appropriate”.
The catalyst was believed to be succession issues because Sir Philip’s children were unlikely to take on his chairman’s role when he eventually steps back from the business. Paying money into the Arcadia pension fund was also reported to be a goal of any sale, for which Barraclough said the retail tycoon accepted responsibility. The Sunday Times reported that the bank exec also said Sir Philip was “annoyed and upset with the pension trustees, whom he accused of a ‘lack of co-operation’ over many years.”
Despite denials of the stories, the newspaper’s two weekends of reports have thrown the spotlight on Sir Philip Green’s eventual plans for Arcadia given the tough retail market to which his chains haven’t been immune. It has also highlighted the issues with Arcadia’s pension fund and put the UK authorities on alert for any sign of ownership change.
In fact, the pensions regulator is closely watching all companies where changes could impact the pension fund. That makes sense - the BHS collapse, which later saw Sir Philip paying hundreds of millions into the pension fund, has been followed by a number of other big-name firms struggling to meet their pension obligations. Toys R Us UK is expected to file for administration this week with the UK’s pensions body being its biggest single creditor.
In this environment, it’s likely that whether Sir Philip keeps or sells his fashion retail chains, lawmakers and the pensions body will want to be involved.
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