Belfast Telegraph

Bleak outlook for Blacks as it's mired deep in the red

By Jamie Grierson

The UK's biggest outdoor retailer, Blacks Leisure, has put itself up for sale in a last-ditch effort to save the loss-making business from collapse.

Blacks, which owns 98 Blacks outlets and 208 Millets stores, warned that any sale of the firm or its brands, which also include Peter Storm and Eurohike, was unlikely to offer value to shareholders as its £36m debt far exceeds its market value of £3.2m.

The group, which made a £16m loss in the first half of the year and recently warned that its full-year performance would be worse than expected, has been hit by low consumer confidence and squeezed household budgets.

The directors had hoped to secure funding for a turnaround of the business, which would have included a revamp of its stores, but its shareholders, which include Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct, failed to put up the cash required.

Shares in Blacks fell another 50% yesterday, reducing the company's value to just £1.3m. The stock has tumbled more than 95% since the start of the year.

Sports Direct is understood to have proposed a joint venture with Blacks to merge its warehousing and IT operations, which would help raise the funding Blacks requires for its strategic overhaul through cost savings.

But the announcement suggests any such offer has been turned down.

Mr Ashley's company, the largest shareholder with a 21% stake, launched a failed takeover bid for Blacks in 2010 and turned down an equity raising in April.

Some retail analysts believed Sports Direct, which has challenged Blacks in recent months with its discount outdoor brands Karrimor and Field -amp; Trek, will only purchase the business or its brands through administration if it becomes insolvent.

Nick Bubb, retailing analyst at Arden Partners, said: "The problem with Blacks has always been that its core Blacks chain is not unattractive, but the Millets chain is a millstone around their neck.

"All eyes will now turn to see what Sports Direct will do, but their strategy will probably be to pick up what they want from the receiver in January."

Blacks said it hopes to have found a buyer by January. Blacks was hit by the warm autumnal weather as its fleeces and waterproof jackets cater for harsher conditions.