Debenhams offers early Christmas present

Debenhams finally provided some good news for its long-suffering investors today, after two miserable years.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The UK retailer said business was starting to pick up at last, with like-for-like sales up in recent weeks as store refurbishment and improvements to its IT and supply chain started to bear fruit.

Chief exec Rob Templeman admitted that sales fell last year, but said that new product ranges in improved stores were starting to tempt customers away from its rivals, while expanding store space was also boosting profits. The result is that investors will get a dividend almost three times bigger than last year.

The new and improved Debenhams is now well placed to withstand the expected slowdown, according to Templeman (although he would say that).

Today’s ray of hope is not before time. Debenhams has almost halved in value since re-floating in 2005, from £1.7bn then to about £890m yesterday. And just to compound matters, this followed a brief period of private equity ownership where the three firms involved made vast profits by restructuring the business and selling off all its property assets. So its subsequent struggles have made it a poster child for the asset-stripping excesses of the buyout industry.

Another big casualty of the whole debacle has been the reputation of its management team, who (in private equity circles at least) were widely considered to be the best in the business. Templeman has already made his millions from the retailer – but now he is desperately trying to salvage something money can’t buy…

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