Nov 10, 2009
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Insolvent Karstadt attracts suitors as sale looms

Nov 10, 2009

ESSEN, Germany (Reuters) - Karstadt, German retail group Arcandor's insolvent department store chain, has already attracted a number of serious offers, its administrator said on Tuesday 10 November as the search began for a buyer.

"We are currently in a position to run the company without making losses," said Karstadt administrator Rolf Weidmann. "We are hoping to know within a couple of months where Karstadt will go. This certainly won't be a drawn-out insolvency process."

Arcandor filed for insolvency in June after it failed to secure state aid to survive. Its various units -- not all of them insolvent -- are now being sold, restructured or closed down.

In September, Arcandor's creditor banks placed a 43.9 percent stake in tour operator Thomas Cook, raising about 904 million pounds ($1.51 billion).

Axa Private Equity bought Arcandor's home shopping channel HSE24 for an undisclosed price, Arcandor's insolvency administrator Klaus Hubert Goerg said on Tuesday 10 November. A source close to the transaction said Axa paid about 180 million euros ($269.6 million).

Mail-order unit Quelle's German operations are now being shut down for lack of a suitable investor.

Karstadt, however, had already attracted a number of serious offers, Goerg said at Karstadt's creditor meeting in Arcandor's home town, Essen. He declined to comment on who the bidders were.

Essen's Grugahalle was mostly empty. Many had sent representatives. The 160 attending creditors stood for about 25,500 creditors with claims of 1.8 billion euros. Karstadt's total claims added up to 2.7 billion euros.

Merrill Lynch has been appointed to find an investor for the department store chain, which dates back to 1881, and Goerg said the search could begin shortly as the "data room" for perusal of Arcandor's books was now ready.

Metro, the world's fourth-largest retailer, wants to beef up its own department store chain Kaufhof and has expressed interest in some Karstadt stores.


Restructuring Karstadt was the "best alternative for all participants," Goerg said. A break-up of Karstadt -- a common feature on German high streets -- would destroy more value than keeping it alive, he said.

"Karstadt's position is satisfying and promising from our point of view," Goerg said.

Karstadt's 28,000 employees have already agreed to a plan to reduce wage costs by about 150 million euros ($224.7 million) over three years to prevent a breakup.

The planned closure of six locations will cost about 400 jobs, while another 11 stores were still being assessed, the insolvency administration said. Karstadt in all operates 129 stores in Germany, all of which it rents.

About two-thirds of the store space is owned by the Highstreet consortium, which is led by Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Pirelli Real Estate. Goerg said talks with Highstreet for more favorable conditions were advanced.

Arcandor shares fell 14.2 percent at 0.194 euro at 1536 GMT.

(Reporting by Eva Kuehnen; Editing by Hans Peters and David Cowell)

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