Just when we thought Mike Ashley might have ended his acquisition spree after having had problems with a few of his investments, news came on Monday that the Frasers group that he leads has acquired a 12.5% stake in British luxury brand Mulberry.
The move certainly came as a surprise. But it makes sense given the more upmarket direction in which Ashley is taking the group that used to be known as Sports Direct (and in which he has a 65% controlling stake).
Mulberry has had a long-term presence in the group’s House of Fraser department stores and with the company planning to open more upmarket Frasers stores (as well as operating the upscale Flannels chain) there seems to be clear commercial reasoning behind the move.
Like many of the businesses in which Ashley has invested in the past few years, Mulberry has had more than its fair share of challenges and this can be seen in its share price. It reached 1,132.50p in September 2016 but began to fall sharply exactly two years ago and now you could buy a Mulberry share for 250p. That puts the entire market capitalisation of the company at just over £150 million. It doesn’t take much maths skill to realise that Frasers wouldn’t have had to pay a huge amount for its stake, based on Monday’s closing share price. That said, neither company has said what exact price was paid.
In a short statement, Ashley’s company did say: “Frasers Group is pleased to announce that it has acquired a 12.5% economic interest in Mulberry Group plc. Mulberry is a global luxury brand with a rich British heritage. A key strategic priority for Frasers Group is the elevation of our retail proposition and building stronger relationships with premium third-party brands. Frasers Group looks forward to working more closely with Mulberry for the benefit of shareholders of both companies.”
The move to buy a stake in Mulberry represents the Frasers Group’s biggest step in the luxury direction yet, with the accessories specialist selling handbags at prices ranging up to £3,500. And it shows how determined Ashley is to make sure his upmarket vision for his company really works. He’s struggled with some weak brand relationships in the past, most notably with some of the world’s largest sports brands that has affected the product available at the Sports Direct chain. This is obviously not a problem that he wants to have to deal with when Frasers opens.