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Profit fall raises chances of success for $6.8 bln buyout of China’s Belle: Reuters

Chinese shoe retailer Belle International Holdings posted an 18 percent drop in its annual profit on heightened competition from e-commerce, likely bolstering the chances of success for a $6.8 billion buyout offer targeting the firm.

A consortium led by private equity firms Hillhouse Capital Group and CDH Investments offered in April to buy Belle, which distributes several sportswear brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and Converse. Belle directors Yu Wu and Sheng Fang were part of the consortium, in what could be one of Asia’s largest management buyouts.

Belle Chief Executive Sheng Baijiao and chairman Tang Yiu have accepted the offer for their combined 25.8 percent stake. Sheng also hailed the take-private plan, saying Belle needed a “fundamental transformation” which could be implemented more effectively if the company is free from “short-term distractions arising from the public equities”.

“I accepted the privatisation as it gives myself and the company a way out,” Sheng told a results briefing on Tuesday.

Belle has said it is experiencing “unprecedented challenges” from e-commerce and shopping malls that compete with its main sales channels in department stores.

UBS said in a research note the fundamentals of Belle’s footwear network continued to deteriorate on falling sales and foot traffic, and investors were likely to accept the offer.

Belle, which hopes to boost its e-commerce presence as Chinese consumers increasingly shop online, posted a fall in net profit to 2.40 billion yuan ($348 million) for the year ended in February, its lowest in nine years.

The company had warned in March of a 15 percent to 25 percent drop in annual profit.

Overall revenues rose 2 percent to 41.7 billion yuan, helped by a 15.4 percent jump in the revenues of the sportswear and apparel business, its No.1 business now.

But revenue at its footwear business slid 10 percent and the business accounted for 45.5 percent of total revenue, down from 51.7 percent level a year ago.

Belle said its footwear business is facing tough challenges due to changing patterns of foot traffic in retail channels and shifting style preferences of consumers.

Its gross profit margin declined to 54.3 percent from 56.3 percent a year ago.

The company directly managed 20,716 retail outlets in China at end-February, including 13,062 footwear and 7,654 sportswear and apparel outlets. It operated 20,873 outlets a year ago.

Belle’s Hong Kong-listed shares, which lost 25 percent of its value in 2016, are up 39.5 percent so far this year. That compared to a 15.1 percent rise in the benchmark index.