New Look Signs Over London Office Lease to Google

  • Lease transfer came after unsolicited approach, New Look says
  • Struggling retailer will keep workers at current London base
The Google Inc. company logo sits on revolving doors at the company's new U.K. headquarters at Six St Pancras Square in London, U.K., on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. The owner of the world's largest search engine built its new U.K. headquarters on 2.4 acres (1 hectare) of land that's part of a larger development by King's Cross Central LP near the Eurostar rail link to mainland Europe.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

New Look Retail Group Ltd., the struggling U.K. retailer part-owned by South African billionaire Christo Wiese, has agreed to assign the lease on its planned new London headquarters to Google parent Alphabet Inc., according to two people with knowledge of the agreement.

The value fashion brand had planned to occupy the building in the King’s Cross district this year and will now keep workers at their existing office in the West End, New Look told staff in a memo seen by Bloomberg News, without naming Alphabet.

Brait SE -- an investment vehicle of Wiese, who’s also the biggest shareholder in troubled Steinhoff International Holdings NV -- wrote off the value of its 780 million-pound ($1 billion) investment in New Look in November, less than just two years after buying the firm. New Look announced the plan to move about 800 staff to King’s Cross in March 2016 after signing a lease for about 123,000 square feet (11,500 square meters) of space there.

The decision to transfer the lease followed an unsolicited offer from an unnamed third party, a New Look spokeswoman said by email. A Google spokesman in London was unable to immediately comment.

Brait has been trying to stabilize the retailer’s performance after the departure of Chief Executive Officer Anders Kristiansen in September and an 8.6 percent decline in comparable sales in the first half. Unsecured bonds for New Look, which operates about 600 stores in the U.K., trade at a record low of 14 pence on the pound, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The U.K.’s high street retailers have been suffering as rising food prices crimped shoppers’ spending power over the holiday season. On a comparable basis, the country’s non-food sales fell 4.4 percent in the three months through December, according to the British Retail Consortium. The tough trading conditions have forced profit warnings from Debenhams Plc and Mothercare Plc this month, while House of Fraser is seeking reductions on its store rents.

Google has signed leases for several buildings at the King’s Cross Central development and confirmed plans to build its new U.K. headquarters there last year.

— With assistance by Nate Lanxon

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