Sainsbury’s £1bn bid for Home Retail Group rejected

Sainsbury’s has made a £1bn move to buy Home Retail Group, the owner of Argos and Homebase, as it seeks to strengthen its business against the rise of the discounters and Amazon, reports The Guardian.

The supermarket group said it had made an approach to Home Retail in November, but its proposal was rejected last month.

Sainsbury’s, which has Argos outlets in a handful of its stores, said it was now considering its position. Under takeover rules, the retailer has until 5pm on 2 February to either announce a firm intention to bid or to withdraw.

Shares in Home Retail Group soared 41% to 139.3p after the supermarket put out a statement on Tuesday, valuing the group at £1.1bn. However, shares in Sainsbury’s fell by almost 5%, to 242p, as investors feared the supermarket would be distracted in the midst of tough grocery market conditions.

Sainsbury’s, which was forced to put out a statement by the Takeover Panel, a City regulator, after a spike in Home Retail Group’s share price, said its board believed a combination of the two groups would be “an attractive proposition for the customers and shareholders of both companies, establishing a platform for long-term value creation”.

It added that the two businesses had complementary product offers which they would be able to deliver to shoppers at home or for pick-up in stores. It is understood that Sainsbury’s is interested in Argos’s delivery network and IT systems which it believes will help it take on Amazon, the US online retailer which is increasing its presence in the UK grocery market.

Home Retail, which is scheduled to release trading figures next Thursday, said it had rejected Sainsbury’s approach because it “undervalued Home Retail Group and its long-term prospects”.

Sainsbury’s bid comes at a time when all the UK’s major supermarket chains are under pressure as people increasingly buy their weekly shop online or pick up groceries from small neighbourhood stores. The rapid growth of discounters Aldi and Lidl has generated a price war, slashing supermarket profits.

Tony Shiret, an analyst at Haitong Research, said Home Retail shareholders would “be biting their arm off” if the supermarket made a firm offer of 130p a share or more. But he said the cash and stock bid lacked business logic and this should deter J Sainsbury shareholders.

“It seems like a desperate move from Sainsbury’s. Were they sipping the Christmas sherry early? This would be a distraction for them. They would be buying a retailer in very difficult markets requiring a huge amount of management time,” Shiret said.

Veteran retail analyst Richard Hyman agreed: “In my view, this deal and trying to make it work, has more potential to hinder than to help.”

Analysts at investment bank Investec said Home Retail could be worth as much as £1.45bn, or 180p a share, and an attempted bid was no surprise given its low stock market value.

However, Scott Ransley, analyst at stockbroker Stifel, said: “We are surprised Home Retail’s board rejected the approach, particularly given the credibility of the buyer.”

Sainsbury’s said a tie-up would “create a food and non-food retailer of choice”, with a strong presence in food, grocery, clothing, homewares, toys, stationery, electricals, furniture and other general merchandise.

The two businesses would be able to save costs by combining stores and operations, according to Sainsbury’s. The supermarket group said it could sell its products via Argos’s network as well as install more Argos outlets in its supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s owned Homebase until 2000, when it sold most of its stake in the DIY chain to the private equity group Permira, in a £750m deal. The chain was then sold on to GUS, a former incarnation of Home Retail Group, in 2002.

Argos operates about 10 outlets in Sainsbury’s stores, after the two companies agreed to work together a year ago. The supermarket group brought in Argos to take up under-utilised space alongside other retail partners including Timpson shoe repair and Jessops, the camera shop.

Rumours of a bid for Home Retail have been circulating since November after the company issued a profit warning ahead of the Black Friday discount day. Shares dived 16%, wiping £200m off the value retailer in October as Home Retail said it could not be sure whether the millions it had invested in a new same-day delivery service for Argos, including new vans and a high-profile advertising campaign, would bear fruit.

Since then, Argos has faced heavy criticism from shoppers as its distribution network and website struggled to cope with demand in the run up to Christmas.

A number of private equity firms were thought to be considering an offer for the Argos and Homebase owner. French DIY chain Leroy Merlin and a former boss of the Garden Centre Group, Nicholas Marshall, were both said to be eyeing a bid for Homebase alone.

Sainsbury’s did not refer to gaining a position in the DIY and garden centre market in its statement on the rationale for the bid, with analysts suggesting the supermarket might consider a side deal to offload it.

Analysts said Sainsbury’s might close dozens of Argos outlets, or consider turning them into convenience stores or part of its Netto discounter chain if the deal went ahead.