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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
M&S sells French stores
Galeries Lafayette, Paris
Galeries Lafayette's Paris store has the highest sales in Europe
Marks & Spencer says it has reached an agreement to sell its 18 French stores to department store group Galeries Lafayette.

Galeries Lafayette gets some very high quality space in very good locations and M&S gets to walk away with more dignity than they could have hoped for a few months ago

Brian Roberts, Mintel
M&S, which triggered a political storm in France by announcing the closure of the stores in March, said Galeries Lafayette's offer would safeguard both the stores and the jobs of about 1,500 employees in France.

The deal does not include the right to use the Marks & Spencer name, and the British company expects to hand over the stores to Galeries at the end of this year.

M&S's four Belgian stores are not part of the deal, however, and will be sold separately as properties. They will close for good on 22 December.

Shares unchanged

M&S has already sold its two stores in Germany. It has yet to decide what will happen to its outlets in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

M&S workers protest in Baker Street, London
M&S workers took to the streets in protest

Tuesday's deal comes a week after M&S reported its first quarterly rise in sales for three years.

An M&S spokesman told BBC News Online that the company had "always been committed to securing continuous employment for its staff."

In the City, M&S shares closed unchanged at 306p on Tuesday.

'Pleased with the deal'

M&S' international director David Norgrove said: "We are pleased we have agreed a proposal with Galeries Lafayette.

"This would offer an opportunity of a new job for all our staff, which in France, as elsewhere, has been a priority objective."

M&S would not disclose the price agreed with Galeries Lafayette, who emerged as favourite to buy the stores earlier this month.

Galeries Lafayette's co-chief executive Philippe Houze said the chain had made a bid and was in confidential discussions with M&S about a deal.

He said he was confident the deal would be accepted by the staff.

Mr Houze said that the purchase would play an important part in the Galeries Lafayette group's development.

The French company said the deal was subject to approval by the M&S works committee and trade unions in France.

'Makes sense'

Brian Roberts, European retail analyst at Mintel, said the agreement made sense for both parties.

"Galeries Lafayette gets some very high quality space in very good locations and M&S gets to walk away with more dignity than they could have hoped for a few months ago," he said.

"The workers should still be in a job, so it is the most sensible outcome to a long drawn out PR disaster for M&S."

M&S's decision to pull out of its loss-making Continental operations led to widespread protests in France, focusing attention on British companies' handling of job cuts.

A French court later ruled that M&S had broken the law by failing to consult properly with its workers before deciding to pull out.

Galeries Lafayette's ornate Paris branch, which by coincidence is directly opposite the Paris branch of M&S, is the biggest department store by turnover in Europe.

Erik Izraelewicz, Les Echos
"The M&S network in France is complimentary to the Galeries Lafayette network"
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Galeries Lafayette has come to the rescue"
See also:

09 Oct 01 | Business
M&S shares test two-year highs
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Is this the big turnaround for M&S?
28 Sep 01 | Business
Shoppers rush for M&S's new look
28 Sep 01 | Business
The rise and fall of M&S
28 Sep 01 | Business
Can 'one woman' save M&S?
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Struggling M&S launches new range
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