South African tycoon buys New Look fashion retailer

image copyrightNew Look
image captionNew Look is being bought by South Africa's Brait

New Look has been bought by a South African magnate for £780 million.

Brait, controlled by retail billionaire Christo Wiese, has bought a 90% stake in the budget fashion chain.

The family of Tom Singh, who founded New Look in 1969, and other senior management, will hold the remaining 10% stake.

New Look, which has more than 800 stores in 21 countries, is being sold by private equity firms Apax and Permira.

They took the chain private in a £700m deal in 2004 after the retailer had spent six years listed on the London stock market.

The firms had planned to relist New Look in 2010 but the stock market flotation was abandoned due to volatile market conditions.

'Desperate to sell'

The Brait deal means that Apax and Permira will not make another attempt to float New Look, which is carrying about £1bn of debt.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb said that the two private equity firms were "desperate to sell" and that a flotation never looked likely given the chain's chequered UK history.

"Christo Wiese has probably been able to drive quite a hard bargain. Whether New Look's recent revival can be sustained is another matter, given the surplus capacity in the UK fast fashion market," he said.

Brait said it had bought New Look for its 600 stores in the UK and its growth prospects in markets such as China and continental Europe.

Chief executive John Gnodde said New Look was an attractive investment opportunity: "It is a market leading brand, with a strong track record of double-digit earnings growth."

'Ideal outcome'

New Look chief executive Anders Kristiansen will stay on following the purchase.

The retailer's chairman Paul Mason said: "This is an ideal outcome for New Look. The Brait team demonstrated to us that they have the long-term vision to help Anders and the team grow this brand."

Mr Wiese has been linked with a string of UK retail takeovers in recent years, including a bid for department chain BhS, formerly owned by Sir Philip Green.

One of his other investment vehicles, Pepkor, is launching a new discount fashion chain in the UK called Pep & Co with Andy Bond, the former Asda chief executive.

It plans to open 50 stores, creating 500 new jobs, by the end of the summer.

image copyrightBrait

Who is Christo Wiese?

Jason Boswell, BBC Johannesberg

Christo Wiese, who controls Brait, is the third-richest South African and worth almost $7bn, according to Forbes.

Mr Wiese started his career in the legal profession before buying Shoprite. It is now Africa's largest food retailer, operating in 15 countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.

Brait has a stake of close to 20% in UK food retailer Iceland and last month bought the Virgin Active gym chain for about £700m.

The company has also invested in South Africa's Premier Foods, the biggest maker of local staples such as maize meal and bread.

Mr Wiese recently sponsored 200 title deeds in South Africa through a land reform initiative for black families. They had previously only had occupation, rather than ownership, rights to the land on which they live as a result of apartheid-era legislation.

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