Icelandic Group Invests in Saks

by MR Magazine Staff

NEW YORK — Viking raiding and plunder may have ceased about a thousand years ago, but their contemporary Icelandic offspring have made an impressive financial campaign on retail targets in the U.K., Denmark, and now America. An Icelandic investment group called Baugur bought an 8.08% stake in the NY-based department store chain Saks Inc. on Monday.

Observers say this isn’t necessarily a preliminary move toward buying Saks outright, but the firm has been eagerly acquiring European companies in the supermarket, retail, and real estate industries of late.

Baugur (, headed by Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, has been buying stakes in British and Danish retailers for years. Baugur was started in 1989 in Reykjavik, Iceland under the name Bónus by Johannesson and his father, Jóhannes Jónsson, as a discount supermarket chain. Ten years later it merged with another food chain and took the name Baugur.

In 2002, the company restructured itself for an international scope. Starting in 2003, it moved in on the U.K. with the purchase of a toy store chain and majoritie stakes in a fashion chain and a health food chain.

Today, Baugur owns two of Denmark’s biggest department stores and Britain’s Big Food Group. It controls 30% of the Danish real estate giant Keops and 20% of the airline Icelandair. It has expanded into luxury accessories, coffee and tea, and made further acquisitions in European real estate firms. It acquired the 60-store U.K. department store group House of Fraser last year.

Saks Inc., the result of merger between the Tennessee department store chain Proffitt’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in late 1998, has trimmed down in the last few years from a house of many department store brands – Carson Pirie Scott and Herbergers among them – to a much leaner company. After Saks Inc. sold most of its brands (Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Herberger’s, and Younkers) to Bon-Ton early in 2006 and Parisian to Belk Inc. later last year, only Saks Fifth Avenue, its discount outlet Off Fifth, and Club Libby Lu were left.