Debenhams to close 50 stores after posting biggest loss in store’s history

Debenhams has unveiled plans to axe up to 50 high street shops, putting around 4,000 jobs at risk, as the struggling department store chain swung to a near £500 million loss.

The group said the closures will take place over a three- to five-year period and the announcement comes alongside a dire set of financial figures.

Debenhams swung to a £491.5 million loss in the year to September 1, the biggest in its history.

It was stung by exceptional write-downs of £512.4 million, primarily relating to store and lease provisions, IT costs and impairment charges.

The loss compares with a £59 million profit in 2017.

Debenhams profits
Debenhams profits

Boss Sergio Bucher said: “It has been a tough year for retail in 2018 and our performance reflects that. We are taking decisive steps to strengthen Debenhams in a market that remains volatile and challenging.

“We are taking tough decisions on stores where financial performance is likely to deteriorate over time.”

The store closures will reduce the Debenhams estate to about 100 and come on top of 10 earmarked earlier this year.

As part of the shake-up, Mr Bucher will look to take £130 million of costs out of the business, including suspending the dividend.

Sales for the year also slipped 1.8% to £2.9 billion while like-for-like revenue fell 2.3%.

Mr Bucher insisted: “Debenhams remains a strong and trusted brand with 19 million customers shopping with us over the past year.

“With a strengthened balance sheet, we will focus investment behind our strategic priorities and ensure that Debenhams has a sustainable and profitable future.

“I can promise my 26,000 staff across the UK that we will work very hard to protect as many stores and as many jobs as we can.”

Shares in the retailer opened down around 6% at 8p.

Woes at Debenhams comes as a raft of retailers including New Look, Carpetright and Mothercare also embark on store closures programmes.

The high street has also been hit with the collapse of House of Fraser, Maplin, ToysRUs and Coast.

Robert Hayton, head of business rates at real estate advisor Altus Group, said: “Department stores are beginning to look like the dinosaurs of the high street.

“Big rents, high rate liabilities, large staffing needs, and leases that are difficult to give up all conspire to create a beast unable to adapt to a rapidly changing retail climate.”

To compound matters, Debenhams is also the subject of takeover talk, with speculation building that Mike Ashley is set to merge it with his newly-acquired House of Fraser.

The Sports Direct tycoon owns just under 30% of Debenhams, close to the threshold at which he must launch an official takeover bid.