Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

House of Fraser's Chinese Owner to Offload Troubled Stores

Updated on
  • Nanjing Xinjiekou Dept. Store to sell 51% stake: filing
  • U.K.’s department-store chains struggling against e-commerce

The Chinese owner of House of Fraser plans to sell its majority stake in the troubled British department-store chain, adding to the upheaval on the U.K.’s shopping streets.

Nanjing Xinjiekou Department Store Co. will sell its 51 percent holding to a tourism development company named Wuji Wenhua, according to a Chinese stock exchange filing Tuesday. The planned sale follows the collapse of Toys ‘R’ Us U.K. and electronics retailer Maplin in February.

The U.K.’s department stores have struggled amid the rise of online shopping and a surge in sourcing costs driven by the pound’s 7 percent fall against the dollar and 14 percent decline against the euro since the Brexit vote. Sports Direct International Plc Chief Executive Officer Mike Ashley this month increased his holding in Debenhams Plc, spurring speculation he may acquire the House of Fraser rival. Ashley also owns a minority stake in House of Fraser.

House of Fraser reported a 2.9 percent drop in sales over the holiday shopping season and has entered negotiations with landlords to reduce rents on some of its 59 U.K. stores. In the year ended January 2017 the company reported net income of 26.8 million pounds ($37.1 million).

The sale of the stake “will have no impact on the day-to-day operations or strategic development of the House of Fraser business in the U.K. and Ireland,” the store chain said in a statement. “It is business as usual.”

Sanpower Group owns a 27.32 percent stake in Nanjing Xinjiekou, according to Bloomberg data. Sanpower acquired House of Fraser in 2014 in a deal that valued the chain at 450 million pounds ($623 million).

Sanpower Group said after the acquisition that it planned to open 50 House of Frasers in China under the name “Oriental Fraser.” But as Chinese consumers started staying home to shop online, retailers have seen sales plunge.

The company has also pivoted Nanjing Xinjiekou’s business toward health care. The conglomerate acquired China Cord Blood Corp. in 2015 for $1.4 billion and Dendreon Pharmaceuticals last year for about $820 million in cash.

— With assistance by Sam Chambers, and Rachel Chang

(Updates with House of Fraser comment in fifth paragraph.)
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