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Belle International, China’s biggest retail footwear retailer, will acquire a smaller domestic rival underscores some of the pressures facing the once-hot traditional retailing business in China amid rapid gains in e-commerce and moderating macroeconomic growth.
Belle said in an announcement on September 9 it would buy unlisted Longhao Tiandi for 700 million yuan, or $117 million. Longhao Tiandi owns the SKAP and other footwear and leather brands, according to a Belle statement. The transaction follows the acquisition of privately held leisurewear brand Ningbo Zhongzhe Mushang earlier this year by domestic apparel retail giant Semir for $325 million. Semir is led by Qiu Guanghe, who together with his family, ranked No. 37 on the 2012 Forbes China Rich list with wealth of $1.95 billion.
Belle said yesterday the new acquisition would complement its existing brands and give it a self-owned label in the “high-end” casual brand market.
That’s all well and good, but the real story here is how China’s e-commerce boom is pressuring traditional business. Bain in a recent study predicted that retail e-commerce in China would surpass the US this year. That growth online is sapping gains in traditional sales channels. Weak share prices for titans like Belle – whose Hong Kong-traded stock has lost a quarter of its value in the past year – are making IPOs less attractive and trade sales like Belle’s purchase of Long Hao Tian more appealing to smaller companies and their investors from private equity funds looking to exit.
Relatively stagnant earnings such as the 3.4% first-half decline at Belle also may augur more mergers and aquisitions in Chinese retailing. They also suggest challenges in China for multinational retailers ranging from the Nike to Wal-Mart making a go of it here as younger Chinese embrace e-commerce in droves.
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