Christo Wiese. Picture: REUTERS
Christo Wiese. Picture: REUTERS

Brait, owner of struggling UK apparel chain New Look, launched a sweeping overhaul as leading shareholder Christo Wiese seeks to salvage his investment after seeing his other retail assets plunge in value.

The investment company outlined a refinancing worth almost twice as much as its R7.1bn market value and said the plan could result in a sale of assets, which also include Virgin Active gyms, within three to five years. Its JSE-listed shares fell as much as 14%.

Brait has been struggling to turn around New Look, which has been hit by the UK’s retail crisis as shoppers defect to trendier online fashion sellers such as Boohoo. The investment firm bought the chain for £780m and now values it at zero. Wiese appointed a former investment banker and dealmaker as his representative to the board in September, a clear indication that he wanted change.

The problems at New Look have added to Wiese’s woes after the implosion at furniture retailer Steinhoff International, where he stepped down as chair after an accounting scandal. Earlier in November, he said he would also retire from Shoprite, whose shares have fallen 37% in 2019 amid a shareholder backlash against his position as chair and the company’s biggest investor.

As part of Brait’s restructuring plan, Wiese will invest up to R1bn rand in an equity raising while EPE Capital Partners’ Ethos Private Equity will take a stake in the firm and manage its portfolio. Brait will also buy back some of its convertible bonds and refinance a revolving credit facility. Brait said the plan will reduce its net debt by as much as R5.3bn.

Virgin Active

The company said it will also adopt a new strategy focused on returning capital to shareholders over the next five years. That could involve the sale of assets including Virgin Active, a large holding in Iceland Foods, the UK frozen food retailer, and a stake in New Look.

After the recapitalisation of Brait, a new board will be proposed to shareholders for approval.

Shares of the company, which also owns the maker of Blue Ribbon bread and Snowflake flour, fell the most in four months. The stock has slumped 52% in 2019 and is heading for a fourth year of significant declines.

Brait earlier also reported a smaller loss in the six months to the end of September at €127m (R2.055bn), from €235m a year earlier.

With Loni Prinsloo.