New Look set for return to public market

HIGH street retailer New Look is mulling a &pound;1.7bn stock market flotation &ndash; six years after it was taken private.<br /><br />The budget fashion chain owned by private equity firms Apax and Permira has enjoyed robust trading throughout the downturn as it steals cash-strapped shoppers away from its mid-market rivals.<br /><br />Founder Tom Singh, who still owns 22 per cent of the group, is believed to be inundated with calls from investment firms Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JP Cazenove, who are all queuing up to get their names in as advisers.<br /><br />Sources close to the situation believe that an IPO could be ready as early as next year, but say the group&rsquo;s immediate focus is on successful Christmas trading.<br /><br />It is expected that if a flotation takes place chairman Phil Wrigley will step down to make way for a successor with City experience.<br /><br />In the year to March 2008, the group reported a 15 per cent growth in sales to &pound;1.3bn, while profits were up 10 per cent to &pound;217.6m. But the company still has more than &pound;1bn of debt.<br /><br />New Look, which was founded in 1969 by Tom Singh, was taken private by Apax and Permira in 2004 for &pound;700m. In 2007 the retailer&rsquo;s private equity owners abandoned plans to sell the company after bidders failed to meet their near &pound;2bn asking price.<br /><br />Since 2004&nbsp; Apax and Permira have invested more than &pound;400m in the business.