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Exista eyes more UK chains after JJB deal

Icelandic investment group Exista has opened a London base in its hunt for more UK investments, after it snapped up a joint 29% stake in JJB Sports.

Exista managing director for global communications Sigurdur Nordal said the office, in Sheldon Square in Paddington, would be a base to examine further investment deals, which would include retail businesses in the UK and northern Europe.

He said: "We are looking at other investments that match our criteria. They must be established businesses, have good cash flow, strong management and good growth potential."

Nordal would not reveal how much money Exista planned to invest, but said the group, listed on the Icelandic stock exchange, had a market capitalisation of £3 billion, with first-quarter profits of £432m.

The London office will be headed by Exista executive chairman Lydur Gudmundsson. His brother Agust is chief executive, based in Reykjavik.

Exista joined forces with sportswear veteran Chris Ronnie to buy JJB founder David Whelan's stake of the business for £190m on June 11. Exista's strategy is to buy a major stake in companies and take an active role as shareholder. Ronnie was immediately installed as deputy chief executive.

Numis retail analyst Jose Marco said: "The move implies that Exista will want some say in where the company is going. It doesn't suggest it will sit back."

Ronnie previously worked closely with Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley. One insider said: "He's a great guy and he knows the sportswear industry inside out. Ronnie was Ashley's right-hand man and was involved in many of Sports Direct's acquisitions."

JJB is understood to have assurances that the deal is not linked to Ashley, who has circled JJB in the past.

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