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'Leopard King' may sell to sanctioned bank

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli.
Samuel Kubani | AFP | Getty Images
Italian designer Roberto Cavalli.

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli is in talks to sell a majority stake in his eponymous fashion house to VTB Capital, the investment arm of Russia's second largest lender, VTB Bank, two sources close to the company said.

Negotiations between the 73-year-old entrepreneur, known as the "Leopard King" and VTB Capital kicked off at the beginning of the summer after the Florentine firm, famous for its colorful animal prints, repeatedly failed to sell to a "traditional" private equity fund because of its hefty price expectations, the sources said.

Russian firms have shown growing appetite for Italian assets.

Earlier this year, Russia's top oil producer Rosneft acquired an indirect stake in tire maker Pirelli . while vodka tycoon Roustam Tariko purchased Italian winemaker Gancia in 2013. The Russian conglomerate Renova, which is owned by another billionaire, Viktor Vekselberg, acquired control of data specialist Octo Telematics in February.

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VTB Capital could offer more than 500 million euros to acquire a 60 percent interest in Roberto Cavalli, according to the Russian daily Vedomosti. Such an offer would value the business as a whole at more than 20 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of 25 million euros.

But the deal could be delayed by the latest round of sanctions against VTB Bank and other Russian lenders over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis, the sources said.

"VTB Capital was hoping to reach an agreement by the end of the summer, but talks are now advancing at a slower pace because of the sanctions," said the first source, who declined to be named because the talks are private.

Possible alliance

This source said that VTB Capital might team up with other Russian financial institutions to boost its firepower.

Roberto Cavalli and VTB Capital both declined to comment.

Russia's largest lender Sberbank as well as VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Russian Agriculture Bank (Rosselkhozbank) were all hit by sanctions that bar EU nationals and companies from buying or selling new bonds, equity or other financial instruments with a maturity of more than 90 days issued by major state-owned Russian banks or by entities acting on their behalf.

Earlier this year Cavalli, which numbers Russia and Eastern Europe among its key international markets, pulled out of a deal with the London buyout firm Permira after failing to agree on a valuation.

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It then approached the Bahrain-based private equity company Investcorp with price expectations of 18 times core earnings. But Investcorp, which has owned Gucci in the past and was also a bidder for the 20 percent stake in Versace, turned Cavalli down.

"At a first glance, Cavalli's valuation seems high as its core earnings are undoubtedly low. But the brand's growth potential remains high, and this is what really matters to investors," a banker in the sector said.

VTB Capital, whose head of global banking operations is the Italian-born Riccardo Orcel, also deputy CEO at VTB Bank, acquired a 9 percent stake in the Milan advisory firm Eidos Partners in January to boost its presence in Italy and promote deals with Russia.

VTB's investment firm has also expressed interest in acquiring the Italian jewellery store chain Stroili Oro, which is being auctioned off by its private equity owners Investindustrial and L-Capital.

— By Reuters

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