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Sports Direct mulls a cash bid for Blacks

SPORTS Direct yesterday said it is considering a takeover offer for Blacks Leisure.

Mike Ashley’s group, which has brands including Slazenger and Dunlop, already owns almost 30 per cent of Blacks shares.

It said it is “evaluating a possible cash offer for the entire issued and to be issued share capital of Blacks”.

The company, which also owns Sports World stores, emphasised that an offer was not inevitable.

The Blacks Leisure group includes Blacks Stores, as well as Millets and Freespirit.

Last week Sports Direct used its shares to block a cash call by Blacks.

The company had planned to use the new capital to fund the opening of up to 35 new stores and the refurbishment of a number of existing sites. Blacks recently said it was on a “much stronger footing” after it closed 87 loss-making stores and reported good Christmas trading.

The retailer would not comment on a bid from Sports Direct.

The company is worth more than £36m. Ashley bought his 28 per cent stake for £6m from the administrators of Icelandic bank Kaupthing.

Analyst Freddie Gerorge at Seymour Pierce said: “We suspect that Sports Direct could extract significant synergies from the acquisition both in terms of optimising the store portfolio, ranges and costs.

“In the current year to end of February, we forecast Blacks Leisure will incur pre-tax losses of £8m but is projected to be profitable in the following year.”

Sports Direct recently bought back an 11 per cent stake in JD Sports Fashion that it once owned.

JEFF BLUE
ASPIRING CAPITAL PARTNERS

ASPIRING Capital Partners was appointed “as retained adviser to Sports Direct International in relation to a possible cash offer for the entire issued and to be issued share capital of Blacks Leisure Group,” according to its website.

The boutique advisory firm’s senior partner is Jeff Blue, who was previously managing director of retail for Baugur, which collapsed last year amidst the Icelandic banking meltdown.

Blue registered the company, Aspiring Capital Partners, early last year, saying at the time he simply wanted to “hang on to the name”. At the time he added it “hadn’t been capitalised” but the company could have a retail element as he knew “a few people in the sector”.

That was no understatement. Blue was hired at Baugur in 2007 with a remit to streamline Baugur’s back-office operations across its brands.

For two years he was responsible for managing a retail portfolio comprising 36 brands (including the likes of Karen Millen, Oasis and Jane Norman) operating 3,800 stores in 35 countries with turnover in excess of £9.8bn.

Before that he was a director at Merrill Lynch for seven years, specialising in the retail and consumer sector and financial sponsorship.

During that time he worked as adviser for Mike Ashley on the Sports Direct float and was central to Debenham’s float in May 2006.

Public relations for the deal are being handled by Financial Dynamics.