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Troubled UK retailer House of Fraser facing collapse

Latest update : 10/08/2018

© AFP/File | House of Fraser joins a string of major British retailers to fall victim to fierce online competition, rising business rates and stretched household budgets amid Brexit uncertainty

LONDON (AFP) - 

House of Fraser, the Chinese-owned UK department store chain, said Friday that it is set to enter administration, potentially becoming the latest big name to vanish from the high street.

The 169-year-old company joins a string of major British retailers to fall victim to fierce online competition, rising business rates and stretched household budgets amid Brexit uncertainty.

The firm, which has department stores dotted across Britain and Ireland, currently employs about 17,500 staff -- but 6,000 jobs were already on the chopping block in an overhaul that had been unveiled in June.

"House of Fraser announces that its discussions with interested investors and its main secured creditors have not concluded in a solvent solution," it said in a statement to the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, where the company's bonds are listed.

"The directors of the group's operating companies ... have therefore resolved to seek the appointment of administrators," it said.

- 'Significant progress' -

The retail chain, which is currently controlled by Chinese conglomerate Sanpower, added that it would appoint Ernst & Young as administrators.

Administration is the process whereby a troubled company calls upon independent financial help in a bid to restructure the business and remain operational.

"Significant progress has been made towards completing a sale of the group's business and assets," House of Fraser said in the statement.

"The proposed administrators are expected to continue to progress those discussions with a view to concluding a transaction shortly after their appointment.

"The proposed administrators have confirmed that the business will continue trading, including all stores and offices, while they seek to complete a sale."

All the group's branches will remain open as usual on Friday.

?We are hopeful that the current negotiations will shortly be concluded," added Chief Executive Alex Williamson.

SportsDirect owner Mike Ashley -- who holds a minority stake in House of Fraser -- could be interested in a rescue deal, Sky News reported.

Friday's news comes after the retailer revealed last week that it had lost a proposed investment from the Chinese owner of Hamleys and was looking for a new rescuer.

House of Fraser had already said in June that it was shutting 31 of its 59 stores across Britain and Ireland.

The group had announced the drastic restructuring after agreeing a 51-percent sale to China's C.banner International Holdings, which already owns the London toy retailer Hamleys, for £70 million (79 million euros, $92 million).

However, C.banner said a slump in its own share price had rendered the transaction "impracticable and inadvisable", and it axed the deal.

- Struggling UK high street -

British retailers with large amounts of stores are suffering from fierce online competition from the likes of Amazon, while battling against discounting in big supermarket chains.

The country is also experiencing weak household spending generally amid economic uncertainty generated by Britain's looming EU departure in 2019.

Bankrupt British budget chain Poundworld collapsed earlier this year with the loss of some 5,100 jobs.

Meanwhile, thousands of jobs have also gone with the demise of clothing outlet Calvetron, Toys 'R' Us toy chain, Maplin electronics stores and Warren Evans bed manufacturers.

© 2018 AFP