The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Dick Smith put up for sale

Receivership likely to mean the end of electronics brand, commentator says, as call goes out for buyers.
The retailer's New Zealand business has 62 stores, is profitable and expected to be attractive to buyers. Photo / Michael Craig
The retailer's New Zealand business has 62 stores, is profitable and expected to be attractive to buyers. Photo / Michael Craig

Receivers could struggle to find a buyer for Dick Smith, with the firm's receivership likely to signal the end of one of Australasia's best-known high street brands, says a retail commentator.

A lending syndicate led by HSBC and National Australia Bank appointed receivers Ferrier Hodgson to the struggling electronics seller yesterday. Dick Smith - which operates 393 stores, 62 of them in New Zealand, and has 3300 employees - has itself appointed McGrathNicol as voluntary administrator.

The receivership comes after the retailer abandoned its profit forecast last month amid a sales slump that left the firm with high levels of excess stock, which had to be heavily discounted in the lead-up to Christmas.

Prices were slashed by up to 80 per cent in the fire sale, but it failed to have the desired effect.

Yesterday, Dick Smith chairman Rob Murray said December sales had fallen below expectations.

"The company explored alternate funding, however the directors formed the view that any success in obtaining alternative funding would not have been sufficiently timely to support short-term funding requirements and allow the company to order inventory during the next four to six weeks," Murray said.

"While confident on the long-term viability of the company, the directors have been unsuccessful in obtaining the necessary support of its banking syndicate to see it through this period."

Ferrier Hodgson receiver James Stewart said it would be "business as usual" at Dick Smith while a restructuring and sale process was undertaken.

"We are immediately calling for expressions of interest for a sale of the business as a going concern," he said, adding that employees would continue to be paid by the receivers. But Chris Wilkinson, of consultancy First Retail Group, said he didn't think a buyer would be found.

"The challenge that Dick Smith's had is it's been in a no-man's-land since its rebranding - it just completely lost its mojo ... This [receivership] has probably signalled the end for the brand, that's our feeling."

However, competitors including JB Hi-Fi could be interested in acquiring retail sites, Wilkinson added.

Stewart said the retailer's New Zealand business was profitable and expected to be attractive to buyers.

Dick Smith's local arm reported a profit of $1.4 million in the year to June 28, down from $3.7 million a year earlier. Sales fell to $179 million from $199 million.

As a whole, the retailer had net debt of A$41 million as of June 28.

Profit rose 3.1 per cent to A$43.3 million in the firm's last financial year.

Dick Smith shares, which have plunged 72 per cent since the company downgraded its profit guidance in October, were suspended from trading following the appointment of administrators.

The stock closed at A35.5c before going into a trading halt on Monday.

Private equity firm Anchorage paid A$94 million when it purchased Dick Smith from supermarket operator Woolworths in 2012.

The retail chain was floated on the stock market the following year with a market value of more than A$500 million, which had fallen to A$84 million by the time trading in the stock was halted on Monday.

Short circuit

Slide into receivership:
• 1968: Dick Smith, a young entrepreneur and electronics technician, opened a car radio installation business beneath a car park in Sydney.
• 1970s: Interest in electronics and CB radio boom led to expansion.
• 1980: More than 20 stores in Australia and during the decade expanded to NZ.
• 1982: Smith completed sale to Woolworths, there was rapid expansion helped by PC boom and diversification. By late last year there were 393 stores in Australasia.
• 2012: Woolworths sold Dick Smith to Anchorage Capital Partners for less than A$100 million ( $106 million) which the following year launched a A$534 million public listing.
• 2015: Sales growth slowed, huge inventory problems and shares slumped more than 80 per cent.
• Yesterday: Put into administration and receivers appointed.

What's hurting Dick Smith?
• A sales slump, which left the firm with excess stock in the lead-up to Christmas that had to be heavily discounted in a bid to bring in cash.
• Tough competition from online competitors, as well as bricks-and-mortar players such as JB Hi-Fi.
• Cashflow constraints and high debt levels - net debt sat at A$41 million ($43.8 million) on June 28.
• The end of support from its banking syndicate, which appointed receivers Ferrier Hodgson yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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