March 17, 2020 / 11:28 AM / 12 days ago

UPDATE 2-UK retailer Laura Ashley succumbs as virus hits, shares slump

* Laura Ashley to appoint administrators

* Says is in advanced talks for third-party debt funding

* Shares will be suspended from trading (Adds shareholder comment, updates share move)

By Tanishaa Nadkar

March 17 (Reuters) - Laura Ashley said on Tuesday it intends to appoint administrators as the coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate and significant impact on the British retailer’s performance.

Shares in the retailer closed 64.3% lower at 0.305 pence.

British retailers have faced challenges in the past few years and Laura Ashley, a favourite of late Princess Diana in its 1980s heyday, has seen sales fall, store closures, weakness at its home furnishings business and a worsening consumer mood.

The company said it was in advanced talks for third-party debt funding but it would not be able to draw down additional funds from lenders in time.

Its largest shareholder, MUI Asia, will not be able to provide financial support either, Laura Ashley said.

“Coronavirus may have hastened the demise but the weak online offering and a tendency to discount what is advertised as high quality merchandise would leave any retail business on a weak footing”, Nick Burchett, fund manager at Cavendish Asset Management, said.

Cavendish Asset Management is Laura Ashley’s third biggest shareholder with a stake of 1.73%, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

The clothing and furnishing retailer is the latest in a list of brands once considered the mainstay of British shopping scene to go under. House of Fraser and the department store chain Debenhams have also been placed in administration.

Trading in the business for the seven weeks to March 13 improved by 24% compared to last year but the pandemic has kept many shoppers away.

Laura Ashley intends to appoint Robert Lewis and Zelf Hussain as administrators and said it was not certain whether there would be any surplus assets available for shareholders of the company.

The company said that its shares will be suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange from Tuesday.

Last month, Laura Ashley said its pretax losses more than doubled in the first half of the year because of weak demand for home furnishing products. (Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar and Samantha Machado in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Barbara Lewis)

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