Buyout deal for Belle International footwear

Two Chinese private equity firms have offered to buy shoe retailer Belle International in a deal valued at HK$53.1 billion (US$6.8 billion).

Hillhouse Capital Group has teamed up with CDH Investments and two Belle executives to buy out the company at HK$6.30 a share, a 20 per cent premium on its previous closing price. Belle’s shares were suspended on April 18 pending release of the announcement.

If completed, the acquisition would be China’s largest retail deal of the year so far.

Founded in Hong Kong, Belle started as a shop in the Yau Ma Tei district. It became an Asian shoe-retailing empire selling such brands as Joyce & Peace, Mirabell and Staccato. However, the past 13 quarters have seen same-store sales declines.

Belle said earlier it anticipated its profit for the financial year ended February 28 to tumble as much as 25 per cent, dragged down by sluggish sales.

“Belle International is at a critical moment and needs to be transformed,” says CEO Sheng Baijiao. “It has become clear our traditional retail business model is in urgent need of integration with the digital economy.”

Hillhouse has invested in such tech giants as AirBNB, Baidu, JD.com, Meituan and Tencent, while CDH, an investor in Belle since the 2000s, has also backed Mengniu, Midea and WH Group.

Joining the two investment companies in the consortium are Belle International Holdings executive directors Yu Wu and Sheng Fang.

Major shareholder

Upon completion of the takeover proposal, Hillhouse will hold 56.81 per cent of the company, while CDH will hold 12.06 per cent. Other participating management, including Yu and Sheng, will hold 31.13 per cent.

“We believe Hillhouse’s long-term capital base combined with our digital and operating experience will be able to help Belle International implement the necessary changes needed to revive its business for the internet era,” says Hillhouse founder/CEO Zhang Lei.

Belle’s board of directors has established an independent board committee to advise shareholders about the proposal, with Anglo Chinese Corporate Finance as an independent financial adviser.

Belle International’s business is broadly divided into two segments: footwear and sportswear, and apparel. Company-owned footwear brands include Basto, JipiJapa, Joy & Peace, Millie’s, Senda, Tata and Teenmix, while distribution brands include Bata, Cat, Clarks, Hush Puppies and Mephisto.

Most of the sportswear and apparel business is in the form of retail distribution, including sportswear brands Adidas, Converse, Nike and Puma, and apparel brands Moussy, Replay and Sly.

Belle International had 20,716 company-managed retail outlets in Mainland China at the end of February, and managed more than 100 retail outlets in Hong Kong and Macau.

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