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M&S mulls return to Europe

Marks & Spencer is understood to be plotting a return to mainland Europe by buying back shops that it sold almost 10 years ago, according to reports.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, M&S has approached European retailers about reacquiring some of the properties that it exited in 2001 when it closed its entire Continental chain.

It is understood to have made overtures to Spanish chain El Corte Ingles about taking back some of the nine shops that it sold to the retailer. It is also considering reacquiring some of the 18 French shops that were also let go in a deal with Galeries Lafayette. They include the flagship on Paris’s Boulevard Haussmann, which was M&S’s first ever European store when it opened in 1975.

The strategic move is likely to surprise investors and the City, and could be confirmed when chief executive Marc Bolland unveils his long-awaited review of the chain next week.

In what is still seen as one of the greatest strategic blunders, M&S announced in 2001 that it would close all 38 of its Continental stores by the end of that year as part of a group restructuring.

The potential cost to M&S of taking back stores is not known. In 2001 it sold the nine Spanish stores for a reported €150m (£130.4m). However, the price of commercial property across Europe has jumped since then, despite the downturn.

A source told the paper: “M&S has been circling back to see where the ownership was on some of the properties that it exited in 2001. There is a view that the company exited them in some haste.”

Chairman Sir Stuart Rose has spoken of his regret of the chain’s decision to exit Europe previously.

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