Edinburgh Woollen Mill cancels dividend as it eyes ailing rivals – The Guardian

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Philip Day’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) has cancelled its dividend payout this year as it prepares to buy up rival retailers battered by tough conditions on the high street.

The billionaire, who lives in Switzerland but has an office in Dubai and a castle in Cumbria, owns about 1,100 high street stores under brands including Peacocks, Jaeger and Austin Reed.

Accounts recently filed at Companies House show his sprawling empire made a profit after tax of just over £23m in the six months to March, on sales of £327m.

The group also has £118m of cash, no bank debt and a £100m borrowing facility. A spokesman said the group was continuing to search for major acquisitions that would expand its high street presence.

Day’s Peacocks group has recently been named as the preferred bidder for the ailing Bonmarché fashion chain. He bought Bonmarché, using an investment vehicle called Spectre, in August before it went into administration in October. Day has a long history of buying brands out of administration and integrating them into his group.

Over the 27-week period, EWM opened 18 new standalone stores and 21 concessions. Seven of the new stores and four of the concessions were for Jaeger, which Day bought out of administration in 2017. The brand is now expanding after it reduced losses in the period to just over £1m, compared with a more than £7m loss in the year before its collapse.

Accounts filed at Companies House this week show the brand has been integrated into a luxury tailoring division with Austin Reed, Jacques Vert and smaller brands such as Windsmoor at one headquarters in London.

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It is not possible to directly compare profit and sales figures for the EWM group with the previous year because it reported on a 78-week period in 2018. However, the company said its operating profit margins had risen from 8.3% to 10.3% in the previous period.

An EWM group spokesperson said: “In the face of a challenging retail environment, our relentless commitment to customers and their wants and needs has allowed us, again, to stand out from the crowd.

“Our strong financial position, emphasis on recycling profits for long-term investment in the future, and highly effective logistical backbone continue to provide an important competitive advantage for the group, allowing us to maintain and extend profit margins at the same time as continuing to pursue new opportunities for the group as they emerge.”

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