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Sports Direct Makes $105 Million Debenhams Bet After Stake Sale

Sports Direct International Plc, the U.K. sporting-goods retailer controlled by billionaire Mike Ashley, sold a recently acquired stake in Debenhams Plc and replaced it with a 64 million-pound ($105 million) wager on the department-store chain’s share price.

After selling the 4.6 percent holding, acquired earlier this month, Sports Direct has entered a so-called put option agreement over a 6.6 percent stake in London-based Debenhams, it said today in a statement. The option would be activated should Debenhams’ share price fall below an unspecified level.

“Normally this would be a bearish sign, but presumably he thinks this will give him more leverage in his negotiations with the beleaguered business,” Nick Bubb, an independent retailing analyst, said of Ashley’s possible intentions.

Sports Direct, which has approximately 400 stores across the U.K., repeated its intention to be a supportive stakeholder in Debenhams and reiterated that it “wishes to explore options at an operational level to work together with Debenhams.”

The sports retailer’s maximum exposure under the put option is limited to about 64 million pounds, it said.

The exercise price was not disclosed in the statement. Sports Direct could not immediately be reached for comment.

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