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Fears for House of Fraser financial health after bid to reduce rents

The chain said half-year earnings sunk to an £8.6 million loss, down from a £900,000 profit in 2016.

Concerns are growing for the financial health of department store House of Fraser after the retailer confirmed it is seeking a reduction in some of its rents.

A spokeswoman for the company said it has contacted some landlords asking for “their support”, ahead of the publication of its Christmas trading performance.

But a source told the Guardian the chain was not planning to close any of its branches, but instead reduce the size of its stores by around a third over 10 years by getting rid of top floors or basements.

House of Fraser, which was bought by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower Group for £480 million in 2014, said in a statement: “We can confirm that we have contacted some of our landlords asking for their support as we drive forward with our transformation programme.”

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said news of the firm’s financial troubles is another example of a retailer that has “failed to adapt” to changes sweeping through the industry.

“The unforgiving shift towards online spending against a backdrop of inflexible leases, upward only rent reviews and spiralling operating costs has put traditional retail business models under intense pressure,” he said.

“Put simply, many retailers are operating with business models that are no longer fit for purpose in today’s digitally-driven world.”

In September, House of Fraser came under strain after the launch of a new web platform and “significant discounting” took its toll.

The chain said half-year earnings sunk to an £8.6 million loss, down from a £900,000 profit in 2016, as website sales suffered from the roll-out of a £25 million online sales platform.

Gross profits also slipped 5% to £196.9 million over the period, as the group slashed prices on old stock to pave the way for a new womenswear brand.

The news that it would be seeking rent reductions came after competitor Debenhams issued a profit warning earlier in the week.

In a trading update brought forward from next week, the retailer said UK like-for-like sales tumbled 2.6% in the 17 weeks to December 30, with overall group sales down 1.8%.

The retailer made the warning after it slashed prices to boost flagging sales over the festive period amid “competitive and volatile” trading.

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