Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Richest Asian Mukesh Ambani buys British toy-store chain Hamleys

Reliance Brands has acquired 100 per cent of business from Hong Kong-based C Banner

Hamleys, which opened its flagship store on London’s Regent Street in 1881, has been an international hot potato in recent years. AP
Hamleys, which opened its flagship store on London’s Regent Street in 1881, has been an international hot potato in recent years. AP

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man and chairman of Reliance Industries, sealed another deal to expand his retail footprint and add heft in a battle with Amazon and Walmart in India.

Reliance Brands - part of Reliance Industries - agreed to purchase the 259-year-old British toy-store chain Hamleys from Hong Kong-listed C Banner International Holdings for almost £68 million ($88.5m), the company said in a statement . The transaction would “catapult Reliance Brands to be a dominant player in the global toy retail industry,” it said.

Reliance’s shares rose as much as 1.6 per cent on Friday in Mumbai trading, rebounding after four straight sessions of decline.

The acquisition is the latest in a string of purchases in Mr Ambani’s push into the consumer business, which he says will contribute nearly as much as to the conglomerate’s total earnings as its core energy business by the end of 2028. Adding Hamleys would give Reliance 167 stores across 18 countries. The company is already a master franchisee of the toy store in India, where it operates 88 outlets.

Hamleys, which was founded in 1760 and opened its flagship store on London’s Regent Street in 1881, has been something of an international hot potato in recent years. Iceland’s Landsbanki Islands sold it to France’s Ludendo Groupe in 2012 and C Banner paid £100 million for it in 2015.

Two of the ten Hamleys stores in South Africa closed this year when their franchisee filed for bankruptcy protection.

For C Banner, the sale would mark a retreat from the UK after the Chinese company last year dropped plans to purchase a majority stake in House of Fraser, a struggling department-store chain that was rescued by Sports Direct International.

Mr Ambani is stitching together a network of partners through stake purchases or outright acquisitions in the race with Amazon and Walmart for a slice of India’s growing online shopping market, which Morgan Stanley estimates will be valued at $200 billion by 2028.

The oil-focused Reliance conglomerate - which reported annual revenue for the financial year until the end of March 2019 of $87bn - has diversified interests ranging from telecoms to real estate. Its planned entry into the e-commerce space is being closely watched, given the huge impact it would have on the industry.

Mr Ambani, in November last year, said that his firm was working on “creating the world's largest online-to-offline new commerce platform”.

Updated: May 10, 2019 12:43 PM

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