News that Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct group is weighing a bid for the troubled retailer Debenhams doesn’t come as much surprise. With a 29 percent stake, Ashley is Debenhams’ biggest shareholder, but the group’s fate is far from clear. Debenhams is labouring under sizeable debt (among other problems) - and its lenders could eventually end up calling the shots (whether Ashley likes it or not).

Debenhams is an extreme case but it’s symptomatic of the problems faced by a number of UK retailers. Traditional bricks and mortar stocks have long complained about the challenges of high rents and margin pressures caused by fierce online competition. Investors in the sector are well versed on how these factors can destroy margins… and even whole businesses.

One of the longest retail deaths in recent years has been HMV, the music and film chain. Back in 2013 the group slipped into administration and the PLC was liquidated a year later. But part of HMV lived on and some of its stores were acquired. But the new outfit went bust again last year, partly because it still couldn’t negotiate itself out of expensive store leases.

Meanwhile, news of struggling chains (both private and public) either attempting turnarounds or sinking completely, still make headlines. Among them have been the likes of New Look, Toys R Us, House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer, Patisserie Valerie (a fraud), Maplin, Carpetright, Homebase and Mothercare.

Another recent bust-up has been Julian Dunkerton’s effort to get himself back in control at the fashion retailer Superdry. Since stepping back from the business last year, Dunkerton has watched the chain’s valuation tumble from around £1.4bn to around £400m. But he and co-founder James Holder still hold a 29 percent stake. Dunkerton is keen to press his own strategy back on the business, but the board is so far saying no.

But aside from these examples, is it all bad news?

Look at the share prices of some of the best known quoted retailers in the stock market and you’ll find a mixed picture. It’s clear that in some cases, retailers have performed very well over the past year. In fact, investors in predominantly online firms like Boohoo.com and Asos, will vouch for the fact that retail stocks can deliver decent returns.

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