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Central Group Resurfaces as Selfridges Suitor

Thailand’s Central Group’s name has come up again as the buyer closing in on a deal to acquire U.K.’s Selfridges Group, despite denials earlier this month.

This time Central Group’s name is linked with Austria’s Signa Group in a joint venture for the British department store group in the 4 billion pound range ($5.31 billion).

U.K.’s The Times said on Tuesday that a deal could be announced this week. Neither Selfridges nor Signa responded to a request for comment. Executives at Central Group could not be reached for comment.

If the deal comes to fruition, it won’t be the first time Central and Signa have joined forces. The two jointly own Germany’s leading luxury department store group KaDeWe, and they teamed in February 2020 to acquire Swiss premium-department store chain Globus. Central’s 50.1 percent stake in KaDeWe is through its wholly-owned La Rinascente operation, while Signa owns the balance. For Globus, the two each own a 50 percent stake in the operation.

Selfridges was believed to be a candidate for a sale this past spring, and was officially put on the block in June after receiving an unsolicited offer of 4 million pounds. The offer came two months after the passing of W. Galen Weston, the family patriarch and former CEO of Canada’s George Weston Ltd. His son Galen is chairman and CEO of George Weston and daughter Alannah is chairwoman of Selfridges Group. The two are cousins of George Weston, CEO of Primark parent Associated British Foods.

Selfridges is the holding company for the Weston family’s department store operations. Those operations include Selfridges, Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland and de Bijenkorf in The Netherlands. Included in the sale is the Oxford Street flagship of Selfridges. The Canadian department store business, Holt Renfrew, is not part of the sale.

While others—Harrods owner Qatar Investment Authority and Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford—have kicked the tires and explored a possible purchase, Central Group first surfaced earlier this month as the entity likely to cross the finish line in a 4 billion pound deal. Controlled by the Chirathivat family, the company is the largest mall developer with more than 100 department stores and shopping malls, in addition to hotels and restaurants. In February of 2020, the family publicly listed Central Retail, its private retail arm.

Earlier this month Central Retail disputed reports of any interest in Selfridges. Per a request by the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) for clarification on news reports that Central Group was preparing to purchase Selfridges, Central Retail said  “the Company would like to clarify that the Company is not currently involved with the transaction reported in the news,” according to a statement Central Retail CEO Yol Phokasub sent to the president of SET. It wasn’t clear whether the denial pertained to Central Group or was meant to clarify that Central Retail the public entity was not in discussions connected to Selfridges. If the denial was meant as a clarification of Central Retail’s role, it didn’t dampen overseas reports that the public entity—which has more 2,115 stores across fashion retail, property and building materials—could still take on some future stake in the British operation. A report on Wednesday in CNA indicated that Central Retail, Central Group’s main department store unit, would have the right to take a partial stake in Selfridges and that the option was under consideration.

A sale to Central Group could reunite Selfridges with Italian retail veteran Vittorio Radice. Radice currently is vice chairman of La Rinascente S.p.A., which is owned by Central Group. He ran the British retailer from 1996 through 2003 and is credited for modernizing the department store operation and restoring its popularity in the 1990s. Radice also has strategic leadership oversight of Globus.

Signa Group is a “privately managed international investment and industrial holding company active in the real estate, retail and media business sectors,” the company said on its website. It also owns Germany’s Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof.

Selfridges was founded in 1909 by American businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge.

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