Market report: trouble on the high street

Market report: trouble on the high streetThe demise of two high-profile retailers has gifted a number of law firms with prize instructions.


The administrators of Woolworths have called on magic firms Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters to help wind up the stricken retail giant.

Freshfields restructuring partner Adam Gallagher has been instructed by Deloitte for the administration of Entertainment UK, Woolworths’ wholesale arm. Linklaters is understood to be advising Deloitte on the administration of the company’s retail arm.

The leading lenders to Woolworths, Burdale and GMAC, are also being advised by Linklaters through partners David Ereira and Richard Bussell.

Freshfields restructuring partner Ken Baird, corporate partner Mark Trapnell and banking partner Neil Falconer have been advising the debt-ridden retailer in rescue talks this week.

A deal between the BBC and Woolworths was thought to have provided enough cash to appease creditors, paving the way for the chain to be sold to restructuring specialist Hilco, which is understood to be represented by CMS Cameron McKenna.

Hilco had previously offered 1 to take on 840 High Street stores as well as a portion of the group’s 385m debt.
On Tuesday night (25 November) BBC Worldwide agreed to pay more than 100m to buy Woolworth’s stake in a joint venture between the two companies called 2Entertain.

The BBC was represented by Olswang, which advised on the launch of 2Entertain in 2004. The deal is subject to approval from the BBC Trust.
The joint venture, which produces DVDs such as Blue Planet and Doctor Who, is 60 per cent owned by the BBC, with Woolworths holding the remaining 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, troubled furniture chain MFI has gone into administration, despite a last-ditch rescue attempt by its management, with Speechly Bircham getting the call from administrators MCR.

Speechly Bircham private equity partner Andrew Clarke has been advising the MFI management throughout the crisis.

Last month the company’s private equity owners, Merchant Equity Partner, sold the business back to the management for a nominal sum of 1 in a bid to stave off administration.

Salans global restructuring chief Bryan Green and corporate head Richard Thomas led the team representing MEP, which bought MFI in 2006, also for 1.

Ashurst also represented MEP on behalf of major stakeholder Goldman Sachs with private equity partner Stephen Lloyd acting on the deal, and SJ Berwin partner Mike Woollard was drafted in on behalf of subsidiaries MFI Retail and MFI properties

It had been hoped that MFI chief executive Gary Favell could save the company, which employs more than 3,000 people, before it collapsed into administration last night.

The administrators were hoping to sell the business as a going concern but 26 stores are to be closed immediately.

The company issued a statement blaming “severe cashflow pressure as a result of credit insurance being withdrawn across the sector and the general market deterioration, which has led to the failure of certain key suppliers”.