Liberty back on market

Boutique department store Liberty could sold according to reports. The infamous Regent Street luxury retailer is on the verge of hiring two mergers and acquisitions firms to work on finding a new investor willing to bankroll its growth plans. The board is this week expected to ratify the appointment of the firms in question, Cavendish Corporate Finance and Global Leisure Partners, and may confirm the review in an announcement to the stock exchange. However, the search for new backers is not expected to get fully under way until after the summer.

Liberty, famous for its distinctive Tudor-style building, is 68% owned by MWB Group Holdings, the quoted property company. Richard Balfour-Lynn, MWB’s chief executive, also serves as chairman of the store. Related Links.

The company, valued at £58.8m at Friday’s closing share price, will try to bring in a new investor, possibly from overseas, to take over all, or part, of MWB’s stake. A source close to the retailer denied that the motive for the review was to reduce MWB’s £358m debt pile.

Liberty, founded in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, is said to be trading well despite the recession. At its annual results in April, it reported sales were ahead 9% year-on-year to £50.2m. However, the store is loss-making, falling deeper into the red last year with a £7m deficit incurred as a result of a restructuring.

Despite its difficulties Liberty, best known for its rugs and fabrics, remains a favourite with Britain’s middle classes, and a relaunch in February has been well received.

Arthur Liberty started the business with a £2,000 loan from his father-in-law. Originally, he sold ornaments and fabrics imported from Japan. The site’s famous mock-Tudor look was added later, using material from the warships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan.

Until MWB took majority control in 2000, the business had resided in the hands of the founding family.

Source: Sunday Times

Image: Liberty

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