Galeries Lafayette in talks to buy House of Fraser - sources
PARIS/LONDON Dec 18 (Reuters) - French department store group Galeries Lafayette is in talks to buy its British counterpart House of Fraser, according to two industry sources.
"There are currently talks between the two companies," one of the sources told Reuters.
The 160-year-old House of Fraser trades from 61 stores in Britain and Ireland and has annual sales of about 1.2 billion pounds ($2 billion).
It has spent almost a decade under private ownership, but had been considering a return to the stock market after previous attempts at a possible trade sale failed.
It made a loss before tax and exceptional items of 6.9 million pounds in the year to Jan. 26 2013, ending the period with net debt of 157.2 million pounds and a pension deficit of 46.9 million.
Facing weak consumer spending in its home market, Galeries Lafayette has begun rolling out glitzy stores in international capitals in an effort to target customers with money to spend in emerging markets.
It now has stores in Jakarta, Beijing and Dubai, and operates 65 Galeries Lafayette outlets in total, with total revenue of 2.3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) last year.
House of Fraser has a complicated ownership structure, with 49 percent of the equity of holding company Highland Group Holdings owned by Icelandic banks Landesbanki and Glitnir.
Chairman Don McCarthy owns 20 percent, retail entrepreneurs Tom Hunter and Kevin Stanford own 11 percent and 9 percent respectively, Lloyds Banking Group has 5 percent and other management 6 percent.
Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said both a sale to Galeries Lafayette or an IPO "may be rather fanciful hopes".
He said it was hard to tell whether the latest development was "a master-stroke or a desperate last throw of the dice, after all other solutions to the distressed balance sheet and shareholder base have failed."
Galeries Lafayette and House of Fraser both declined to comment.
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