Virgin Active’s owner in talks with Wiese on debt-reduction plan

Brait SE is in talks with its biggest shareholder, South African businessman Christo Wiese, about a broad debt-reduction plan at the investment company that could involve fundraising, cost cuts and asset sales.

Wiese’s investment vehicle Titan intends to remain “a significant and strategic shareholder,” Brait said in a statement on Monday.

Titan has been approached by third parties who support the initiative, the company said. Brait’s shares rose less than 1% in Johannesburg trading.

The disclosure follows reports last week that Wiese’s Titan would team up a new vehicle called Arbiter and Johannesburg-based money manager Mergence Investment Managers to remove the current management and embark on their preferred strategy, including selling Brait’s assets except for the gym-chain Virgin Active.

Brait would also raise R3 billion ($162 million) in a share sale, according to an investor presentation seen by Bloomberg News.

The reports kindled a surge in Brait’s shares, which gained 11% over two days, valuing the group at R8.1 billion. The stock is still down about 46% this year.

Brait has struggled with the challenge of owning embattled U.K. clothes retailer New Look, which it bought for 780 million pounds ($971 million) and now values at zero.

Brait’s other assets include British grocer Iceland and South Africa’s Premier Foods, which makes Blue Ribbon bread and Snowflake flour.

Wiese was one of South Africa’s richest men before the near-collapse of Steinhoff International Holdings NV, in which he was the biggest shareholder.

His net worth is about $628 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. As part of the plan for Brait, Wiese would reduce his exposure by selling shares to Arbiter.

Read: Here are 24 of the richest people in South Africa

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Virgin Active’s owner in talks with Wiese on debt-reduction plan