Home news Ex-Comet owner Opcapita vies for Homebase

Ex-Comet owner Opcapita vies for Homebase

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The controversial former owner of Comet, the electrical goods retailer which collapsed in 2012, is among a pack of prospective buyers of Homebase, the struggling DIY chain.

Sky News has learnt that Opcapita has tabled an offer for Homebase, which has been put up for sale by its Australian owner just two years after it last changed hands.

It was unclear on Wednesday how seriously Opcapita – set up by the City financier Henry Jackson – is approaching its bid for the DIY chain.
Its presence in the auction is, however, likely to stir emotions among those angered by its brief ownership of Comet in 2012, when it recouped tens of millions of pounds even as taxpayers were saddled with a £70m bill.
Opcapita now owns a portfolio of businesses across Europe, including the Football Pools, which it acquired last June.
It is one of several bidders for Homebase which have been tempted by the promise of a huge dowry from Wesfarmers, the Sydney-listed conglomerate.
A large financial package – potentially exceeding £100m – is expected to be handed to a new owner to help contend with its huge losses.
Homebase, which trades from just under 250 stores across the UK, is expected to lose approximately £190m in this financial year on revenues of roughly £1bn, according to the source.
Alvarez & Marsal, the restructuring specialist, has been drafted in to advise Wesfarmers on alternatives to a sale, including a mechanism that would see it closing scores of Homebase outlets.
A so-called Company Voluntary Arrangement is also being explored by chains including House of Fraser as pressures mount on retailers to find ways of slashing their financial liabilities.
Wesfarmers began approaching potential buyers of the DIY chain earlier this year, just two years after completing a £340m takeover.

Investment bankers at Lazard are handling the sale discussions, with turnaround investors such as Endless and Alteri Investors reportedly interested in a takeover.
Homebase employed nearly 12,000 people in Britain at the end of last year.
The move to unwind Wesfarmers’ takeover of the UK’s second-biggest DIY chain comes a month before the Sydney-listed company has said it will update investors on the results of its strategic review of Homebase.
Homebase, which is now part of Wesfarmers’ Bunnings UK and Ireland division, was intended to be a launchpad from which the Australian retailer would take on B&Q in a battle for supremacy in the DIY market.
However, Wesfarmers’ strategy has backfired spectacularly in the last 18 months?, forcing it to write off more than £500m after it ditched some of Homebase’s most popular business lines.
It ditched the chain’s British management team, replacing them with an Australian leadership line-up which presumed the UK market would welcome the radically different Bunnings Warehouse? retail model.
Its sales performance since the deal has produced the opposite result, with the British and Irish division reporting a 15.7%? slump in revenue and a £97m loss before tax.
Recent adverse weather across the country has not helped, with garden centre specialists reporting sharp declines in sales during the first quarter of 2018.

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While Homebase’s travails are largely self-inflicted, they have compounded the sense of gloom engulfing Britain’s retail sector as online competition and rising high street costs squeeze many established chains.
Opcapita and Bunnings both declined to comment.

Source: SKY