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Normans up stake in Warehouse

By Holly Ryan, and agencies

Increase in holding to 5.15% by investors who control Farmers and Whitcoulls an opportunistic buy: analyst.

David and Anne Norman.
David and Anne Norman.

David and Anne Norman, the owners of the retail group which controls Farmers and Whitcoulls, have nabbed a strategic stake in the country's largest listed retailer, Warehouse Group.

The Normans' James Pascoe group has taken advantage of a slump in Warehouse Group shares to nudge its holding up to 5.15 per cent.

The Warehouse has had to discount winter clothing and homewares because of warmer weather. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Warehouse has had to discount winter clothing and homewares because of warmer weather. Photo / Dean Purcell

James Pascoe acquired 544,964 shares on market on Monday for about $1.65 million, implying it paid $3.03 a share. Warehouse shares slipped as low as $2.99 during trading yesterday, before eventually closing up 5c at $3.08 - a 17-month low.

The purchase amounts to only about 0.2 per cent of Warehouse's stock, meaning James Pascoe was already close to the 5 per cent threshold where a holding must be disclosed to the NZX.

Although the 5 per cent represents a significant stake in the company, analysts were sceptical there could be more to the purchase.

Coriolis Research analyst Tim Morris said it was unlikely anything would change at The Warehouse for some time.

"Nothing is going to change at The Warehouse until the larger shareholder [founder Stephen Tindall] decides he wants to sell. And Woolworths Australia would like to buy and that's been in the cards for five years or so. But Foodstuffs also have 10 per cent," Morris said.

"There's two people in there that can block anyone else from buying. There's an owner who has a major stake and then there's already two other major shareholders," he said.

"The share price is also down dramatically from when Foodstuffs and Woolworths bought in so they would have to eat some pretty humble pie to sell out at the current price."

Morris said the purchase was more likely to be an opportunistic buy at the low end of the market.

"They would be hard pushed to get past the Commerce Commission, if you own Farmers, you're never going to be able to buy The Warehouse."

The Normans' retail empire includes department store chain Farmers Trading Co, the Whitcoulls bookstores, Pascoes the Jewellers, Stewart Dawson and Goldman jewellery retailers, and Prouds the Jewellers, Angus & Coote and Goldmark jewellery chains in Australia.

The couple ranked 18th equal on the NBR Rich List last year, with a fortune estimated at $500 million.

According to their substantial security holder notice, James Pascoe is owned by David and Anne Norman and four family trusts.

Warehouse stock was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" by brokerage Craigs Investment Partners after the retailer last week cut its full-year earnings forecast, saying it was having to discount winter clothing and homewares because of warmer weather.

Craigs analyst Chris Byrne cut his forecast for the retailer's 2014 profit by 12 per cent, the 2015 forecast by 6 per cent and the 2016 estimate by 5 per cent after Warehouse on Friday said its profit would decline from the year earlier and be lower than previously forecast as it cut profit margins at its "red sheds" stores to move stock. Apparel makes up about a quarter of "red shed" sales and normally generates higher margins, Byrne said.

Warehouse is in the process of rejuvenating its 91 "red shed" stores. It aims to grow the "non-red" side to be as large as the red sheds, having bought 11 businesses in 18 months, including technology and appliance retailer Noel Leeming, and outdoor sports chain R&R Sports.

David and Anne Norman

• The Normans' James Pascoe group has bought 544,964 Warehouse shares to raise its stake to 5.15%.
• The retail empire includes Farmers Trading Co, Whitcoulls, Pascoes the Jewellers, Stewart Dawson and Goldman jewellery retailers, and Prouds the Jewellers, Angus & Coote and Goldmark jewellery chains in Australia.
• The couple are ranked 18th equal on the NBR Rich List last year, with a fortune estimated at $500m.

- NZ Herald

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