Sports Direct has further increased its stake in Debenhams, raising its interest in the department store chain from 23 per cent to 29.7 per cent.
This means Mike Ashley’s retail company is now just 0.3 percentage points away from the minimum stake in requires to launch a takeover bid of Debenhams.
While Sports Direct now owns more than a quarter of the department store retailer, UK takeover rules stipulates that a shareholder holding shares worth 30 per cent or more of another company’s stock must launch a formal takeover bid.
Sports Direct’s current stake in Debenhams is also the latest in a series of increases that began in 2014, but it particularly shot up in the past year after having only a 13.38 per cent stake last April.
Ashley’s intentions in boosting his company’s holding have been the subject of speculation, although few have tipped the billionaire to attempt a full-blown takeover.
The sportswear retailer has in the past said it wanted to be a “supportive stakeholder” in Debenhams, and to create value in the interests of shareholders of both firms.
Debenhams currently has a market value of around £350 million after it issued profit warning in its Christmas trading update earlier this year.
Sports Direct head of strategic investments Liam Rowley stopped shy of referring to a bid for the department store.
“We see huge value for both companies in a strategic partnership between Debenhams and Sports Direct,” he said.
“There are obvious synergies that can be achieved through the integration of our respective web operations. We also see opportunities to work together internationally.
“Importantly, there is scope for greater collaboration in the UK in order to roll out an elevated offering to consumers. We believe Sports Direct can complement Debenhams very well across the spectrum.”
The news has led to a four per cent bump in Debenhams shares to 28.9p.
Sports Direct also snapped up a 27 per cent stake in French Connection last year, raising questions over the fashion retailer’s future.