Baugur made its 42p-a-share indicative offer in February and, since then, rebel shareholders have had their swords drawn. The founding Moss and Gee families have made no bones about the fact they believed the offer under-valued the business.
While the due diligence seemed to take longer than necessary, Baugur seemed determined to launch a full bid. Only last week, the feeling at Moss was that Baugur may be taking its time, but the bid was only days away. And, despite strong words from rebel shareholders, Baugur was indicating it was still more likely to bid than not.
So what went wrong? In its statement, Baugur – which owns a swathe of the UK high street – said there was too high a risk of the deal not going through, given recent changes to the Moss Bros shareholder register. The comments must have related to Laura Ashley, which has been stakebuilding and now boasts a 10 per cent share, but is refusing to give the company or indeed anyone else any indication of what its plans are.
Baugur said in its statement that it is “disappointed by recent developments that have effectively frustrated our proposed offer”, but added that it will “continue to work with the board, management and other major shareholders to identify ways to unlock the potential in the business”.
The whole episode has been an embarrassing and ultimately fruitless one for the Icelandics. Rebel shareholders – who obviously have their own agendas – claimed Baugur’s initial move had been designed to flush out rival bidders and that it was hoping to sell its stake in the business.
Both these claims were denied by Baugur, but taking such a long time to come up with nothing has caused real disruption to the business, although apparently with the support of some aggressive discounting, trading is not too bad.
The question now is where next for the business, and that’s a question no one knows. This whole unfortunate saga has had more twists and turns than the Monaco Grand Prix and with Laura Ashley plus other potential suitors like Berwin & Berwin in the background, there are still more to come.
All the management of the company wants is a period of calm to focus on the business. But anyone who has followed the company knows the chances of that happening are slim.
Jennifer Creevy is news editor of Retail Week