Thursday, April 18, 2024

Online fashion retailer Asos, once a stock market darling, is in talks with lenders about hiring a restructuring expert

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Struggling online fashion retailer Asos Plc and its lenders are discussing whether to hire a restructuring expert following the departure of its chief financial officer. 

A number of turnaround professionals held informal talks about a role, which would sit below executive level, but no decision has been made, according to people familiar with the matter.

Asos’s lenders include Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group. The banks are being advised by AlixPartners and Clifford Chance. Any appointment could potentially provide further support to Asos as it seeks to revive its fortunes after a steep drop in performance since the pandemic. 

Asos, advised by PJT Partners Inc. and EY, is experiencing a tumultuous period as consumer demand is waning and costs are rising, thanks to a spike in wages and energy. Product returns are also surging. 

AlixPartners and Asos declined to comment. 

Asos has installed a new chairman and chief executive in the last 18 months and its chief operating and chief financial officer, recently left. Interim finance head Katy Mecklenburgh resigned about a week ago and will join Softcat in the spring. The talks with Asos’s lenders were prompted after Mecklenburgh’s departure was announced, and continued into last week. 

Although the retailer successfully renegotiated the terms of its £350 million ($429 million) revolving credit facility in October, the extension only lasts until 2024 and Asos will need to renew discussions with lenders on the loan again next year. 

Chief Executive Officer Jose Antonio Ramos Calamonte said in October that free cash flow this fiscal year would be zero at best and that the company would report a loss in the first half. Asos said its international operations were lagging expectations and cited problems with its supply chain. It also pledged to “strengthen” its leadership team. 

In response to its challenges, the company is writing off as much as £130 million of stock, cutting costs and slowing automation in its warehouses. The retailer is also trying to drive the better performing parts of its business, such as its popular Topshop brand whose sales rose 105% in fiscal 2022. 

It is relatively common for lenders to seek to bolster the financial department of companies in the event of a refinance.

Founded in north London in 2000 by Nick Robertson and his brother with a small amount of seed capital, Asos was for many years a stock market darling amid rising sales and profits. That has changed, however, with the stock losing nearly 76% since the start of this year. 

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group Plc, which has bought a number of smaller retailers this year, including tailor Gieves & Hawkes, has increased its stake in Asos to just above 5%. 

–With assistance from Irene García Pérez.

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