THG shares soar amid prospect of bidding war for online retailer

Firm has had three recent takeover approaches, while property tycoon Nick Candy may also make move

Shares in THG soared by a quarter on Friday as investors cheered the prospect of a multibillion-pound bidding war for the online retailer, including a possible offer from property tycoon Nick Candy.

The market value of THG, the online health and beauty retailer formerly known as the Hut Group, leapt by almost £400m to £1.8bn after the company confirmed there had been three takeover approaches in recent weeks.

The company said that it rejected a £2.07bn bid from two investment companies, Belerion Capital and King Street Capital Management, in a statement on Thursday night. THG said it was the third such approach but has not revealed details of who made the previous two, or how much was offered. Iain McDonald, Belerion’s co-founder and chief investment officer, is a THG non-executive director.

“The board of THG notes the recent press speculation and confirms that it received a third unsolicited, highly preliminary and indicative non-binding proposal of 170p per share,” the company said.

“The board of THG considered the proposal, together with its financial and legal advisers, and concluded that it significantly undervalued the company and its future prospects, and accordingly unanimously rejected the proposal.”

London-based Belerion Capital, an investment advisory firm specialising in technology and e-commerce, had just £1.1m in net assets on its balance sheet on 30 June last year, according to the latest filing at Companies House. Sales for the 11 months to 30 June were £2.1m, and the company employees just seven staff.

New York-headquartered King Street, which has six offices including in London, Singapore and Tokyo, employs 220 people and has more than $20bn in assets under management.

THG’s confirmation of a third approach came hours after it emerged that Candy was considering making an offer for the e-commerce company. Under UK takeover rules, Belerion and King, Candy and the other unnamed suitors have until 16 June to make a formal offer or walk away. Candy is also a major investor in the London-listed podcast company Audioboom and the augmented reality business Blippar.

Neither the Belerion/King Street or Candy announcements of takeover interest were prompted by news articles linking the businesses to THG, but both statements reveal their interest cited “press speculation” as a catalyst for going public.

Any bid requires the backing of Matthew Moulding, the founder and chief executive of THG, who has a special share that allows him to veto any hostile offer. The company has said it intends to unwind the special share arrangement by the end of this year.

Last month, Manchester-based THG, which runs beauty and nutrition websites including Lookfantastic, Cult Beauty and Myprotein, said it had dismissed “numerous” recent takeover approaches as “unacceptable”.

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The company’s share price closed at 116p on Thursday, down 4%, but soared to 144p in trading on Friday morning off the back of the bid speculation. The company floated at 500p in September 2020, and peaked at 837p last September.

THG is attempting to recover from a tough year when it faced criticism for allowing Moulding to serve as executive chair and chief executive, which is against best corporate governance practice.

The board also signed off on a deal that allowed Moulding to acquire a number of THG properties before leasing them back to the company for millions of pounds a year.

Last year the company reported a 35% increase in revenues to £2.2bn, helping push adjusted earnings up 7% at £161m. In its results for the first quarter of this year, THG’s revenues rose by 16% to £520m.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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