May 19, 2020 / 7:00 AM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 2-French Connection says could run out of cash within months

* Co needs access to additional capital

* In talks with funding partners

* Shares fall as much as 24% (Recasts, adds shares, background)

By Tanishaa Nadkar

May 19 (Reuters) - French Connection is the latest major UK retailer to warn it could run out of cash within months, saying it was in talks with investors over new funding but had struggled to access government support schemes during the coronavirus crisis.

The retailer, which has not posted a pre-tax profit since the year ended Jan. 31, 2012, said on Tuesday it had seen a significant reduction in sales with stores and concessions closed as a result of the pandemic lockdown.

Although it had accessed the government’s job retention scheme and business rates relief for its stores, it had been unable to secure other government support funds due to “tight qualification constraints”.

Shares in the company, once known for its provocative FCUK brand of clothing and accessories, dropped nearly 24% in early trade but recovered to trade down 2.7% by 0911 GMT. They have fallen more than 80% this year.

The retailer, whose brands include Great Plains and YMC, has struggled to differentiate itself from rivals such as Inditex’s Zara, but attempts to sell the business were abandoned in January and plans put in place to turn the company around.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Marks owns a 41.5% stake, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, while Mike Ashley owned Frasers Group — formerly known as Sports Direct — is the second-largest shareholder with a 26.1% stake.

Despite a 44% rise in online sales in the UK and the United States over the last 6 weeks, the company said it does not expect a return to normal levels of trading for some time, although it was planning to start reopening stores from June.

French Connection said it was in talks with suppliers, landlords and factories in a bid to cut costs. It had a net cash position of 8.1 million pounds ($9.91 million) at the end of January according to a company statement.

Laura Ashley, once considered a mainstay of the British shopping scene, has appointed administrators due to the impact of the pandemic, while department store group Debenhams has gone into administration for the second time in a year. ($1 = 0.8175 pounds) (Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Shounak Dasgupta, Kirsten Donovan)

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