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U.K. Retail in Play: Selfridges OKs Weston’s $1.14 Billion Offer

Selfridges’ board formally recommended an offer by Canadian billionaire Galen Weston, valuing the British chain at approximately $965 million.

Monday’s announcement came after intense weekend discussions among Selfridges’ nonexecutive directors, their financial advisers Merrill Lynch, and bidders.

“Weston’s was the highest offer we received and we think it’s a very, very attractive deal for shareholders,” a Selfridges spokeswoman said. “Although the decision was made entirely on the basis of price level, we’re also happy that the compatibility between Selfridges and Weston’s companies is there.”

Shareholders will have up to 60 days to sell their shares in Selfridges.

While industry analysts called the offer a good deal for shareholders and a golden opportunity for Weston, another bid could be in the works. Sources say Aletheia Partners, a consortium including the Iranian property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz, may still be preparing a rival, 11th-hour offer. A Tchenguiz spokeswoman declined to comment. As reported, the Formula One motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone is said to be backing Tchenguiz.

Over the weekend, the Scottish entrepreneur Tom Hunter joined forces with Simon and David Reuben, with a fresh, last-minute bid that fell about 3 cents a share short of Weston’s offer. “I wish Galen Weston and Selfridges every success,” a spokesman for Hunter said, indicating Hunter would not be putting in another bid. Selfridges was Hunter’s third unsuccessful retail takeover attempt this year after his offers for House of Fraser and Allders were rebuffed.

Industry observers said the Weston-Selfridges combination was a hot one.

“I think it was a very far-sighted move on Weston’s part,” said Edward Whitefield, chairman of Management Horizons, the retail consultancy based here. “Selfridges fits into his scheme very well and there are great synergies to be had among the different stores.”

Whitefield added that Selfridges had potential to expand to “at least” 10 stores in the U.K. — and then abroad. “Selfridges is a brand emporium and the brands they carry have an international appeal. I definitely think there are opportunities outside the U.K. for the company.”

Since Selfridges was demerged from Sears plc in 1998 and floated on the London Stock Exchange, trading space has increased to 807,000 square feet from 540,000 square feet. Selfridges currently has its flagship on Oxford Street, and two units in Manchester. Its new Birmingham store will open in September, and plans are in the works for a Glasgow unit. The company also said in its statement Monday that other “targeted” cities include Leeds, Newcastle and Bristol.
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