Qatar 'to launch £8bn Marks & Spencer bid'
Gulf state planning swoop for British high street giant - but others have tried and failed before
A LEADING Middle Eastern investment fund is planning an £8 billion swoop for Marks & Spencer, reports the Sunday Times.
The Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund, is assembling a consortium to make a move for the retailer. If successful, it would be the biggest private takeover of a FTSE 100 company since 2007 when American buy-out firm KKR snapped up Alliance Boots for £11 billion and would see another British high street institution fall into foreign ownership after Kraft's takeover of Cadbury and Qatar's purchase of Harrods in 2010.
The fund already holds a 26 per cent stake in J Sainsbury's, but the Daily Telegraph says it is unlikely the supermarket giants would be merged under any deal. Other buy-out firms have previously been linked with a potential M&S takeover, including KKR, CVC and Apax, but obstacles exist.
One of the Qatari fund's advisers, speaking anonymously, told the Telegraph that though a takeover was "possible", there were "lots of issues". These include M&S's £290 million pension fund deficit and the high number of retail shareholders who could block any takeover. Other bidders have tried and failed to sweep up M&S before, with Topshop tycoon Philip Green launching an unsuccessful hostile takeover bid worth £10 billion in 2004.
The 129-year-old chain has struggled in recent years, leaving chief executive Marc Bolland under pressure to revive the company's fashion sales. According to Kantar Worldpanel's figures from last month, sales of M&S's fashion lines dropped 1.3 per cent in the 24 weeks to 20 January and the retailer's market share shrank by 0.4 per cent, prompting critics to voice fears that M&S has lost its connection with its "middle England" heartland. ·