Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has bought a £22m stake in the fashion group Boohoo as the high street retail tycoon makes a flurry of investments in online retail.
The group, which owns Sports Direct and the designer fashion retailer Flannels, added the 5% stake in Boohoo on Monday shortly after announcing it had built a 9% stake in the electrical goods retailer Currys in the past week. Ashley has a long history of snapping up ailing brands, from House of Fraser to Everlast.
The latest investments come after Frasers said last week it had built up a 21% stake in the electrical goods online retail specialist AO as part of a “strategic partnership” and had built a 10.6% stake in Asos, adding to the acquisitions of its online fashion rivals Missguided and I Saw It First in the past year.
Frasers made its move as online retail groups’ stock market valuations have fallen after a slide in sales this year following a pandemic boom in home deliveries.
Renewed competition as high streets reopened after lockdowns and the rising cost of handling deliveries and returned goods – amid wage, fuel and energy inflation – have put pressure on sales and profits.
“Boohoo is an attractive proposition to us with its laser focus on young female consumers. We see potential synergies and an opportunity to strengthen our own brand proposition in collaboration with Boohoo, most obviously with Frasers Group brands I Saw It First and Missguided,” Frasers said on Tuesday.
It said the investment in Currys was a “valuable opportunity to build on our foothold in the electricals industry” and would help deepen the existing relationship between Currys and Frasers’ online discount store Studio Retail, paving the way for further collaboration between the two businesses.
While some commentators have raised eyebrows at Frasers’ flurry of retail punts in recent weeks across an array of businesses, the company said these “strategic investments” were a “core part of Frasers’ DNA”.
Ashley, a former Newcastle United owner who controls Frasers through his 72% stake, has a long history of buying shares in retail businesses, from Debenhams to Hugo Boss, in an attempt to gain influence or build a trading relationship. Some of those punts have not paid off – Frasers lost £150m when Debenhams went into administration while the brand was sold off to Boohoo, which now operates the former department store chain entirely online.
Michael Murray, Ashley’s son-in-law, took over as chief executive of Frasers last year after several years advising the group on property transactions.
Frasers said: “Under Michael Murray’s leadership, we continue to build on our long track record of establishing supportive shareholder positions in attractive retail companies.
“We have a clear strategy to identify opportunities to invest in businesses which complement our existing sport, premium and luxury businesses, or help us to build and further utilise our sector-leading ecosystem.”
Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Frasers Group is putting its fingers into more retail pies snapping up slices of companies which have proved unappetising for investors in recent years. Boohoo and Currys have struggled with falling sales as the cost of living crisis affects discretionary spending, but Frasers Group clearly sees significant value in both companies, once inflationary winds die down.
“As lives of younger generations are increasingly spent online, through entertainment and shopping habits, Frasers Group sees upping stakes in these companies as providing channels into those markets.”