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PPR Buys Puma Stake, Plans to Make Offer

Puma
Puma

French luxury goods group PPR said Tuesday it is buying a 27.1% stake in Puma and plans to make a friendly takeover bid that values the world's third-largest sporting goods maker at 5.3 billion euros ($7.1 billion).

PPR, which has the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent brands, said it was paying 1.4 billion euros ($1.9 billion) for the stake in Puma held by the Mayfair investment company.

"Following this acquisition, PPR intends to launch a friendly takeover offer in cash on the remaining outstanding Puma shares at the same price" of 330 euros ($441.11) per share, PPR said in a statement. It said it expects to complete the offer in early July.

Herzogenaurach-based Puma welcomed the offer and said management would recommend it to shareholders.

The company's board "unanimously believes that PPR's engagement is in the best interests of the company and that the announced offer price per share ... for the voluntary public takeover offer is fair," Puma said in a statement.

Puma shares soared 9% to 342.90 euros ($458.36) in Frankfurt -- moving above PPR's offer price following a gain of more than 10% on Thursday, the last trading day before the Easter weekend, on talk of a possible bid. PPR shares rose 2.4% to 132.06 euros ($176.53) in Paris.

"We guarantee Puma's continuity as an autonomous company within the PPR Group," PPR Chief Executive Francois-Henri Pinault was quoted as saying in Puma's statement.

Puma added that "there will be no changes with regard to staffing."

Puma

Established in 1948, Puma is one of the world's biggest sporting goods companies after U.S.-based Nike and Adidas, which also is based in Herzogenaurach. It has some 7,800 employees.

Puma has been working to expand its reputation as a maker of lifestyle brands -- clothes, shoes and accessories such as eyeglasses -- and expand in more regions and categories.

Last year, it launched a joint footwear collection with Alexander McQueen, also part of the PPR group.

In 2006, it earned a net profit of 263.2 million euros on sales of 2.37 billion euros.

Executives of PPR, which also owns luxury brands Balenciaga and Stella McCartney as well as the Fnac music chain and Conforama furniture chain, described the offer price as "firm and final" during a conference call.

Chief Financial Officer Jean-Francois Palus said that "we will not endanger our credit rating with acquisitions."

Still, Puma shares' rise above the offer price appeared to raise the possibility that PPR might have to raise its bid -- or that another bidder might enter the fray.

PPR's Bid

Standard & Poor's rating agency placed its corporate credit ratings on PPR on watch.

That "reflects uncertainties regarding the bid's cash impact, which in turn depends on whether all of Puma's existing shareholders pledge their shares, and the final price paid by PPR, which could exceed 5 billion euros," S&P credit analyst Nicolas Baudouin said in a statement.

Puma Chief Executive Jochen Zeitz stressed that his company considers PPR "the right partner" when asked during a conference call about the possibility of a rival bid -- which he described as "very hypothetical."

He said that "should there be another offer, we'd closely examine it."

S&P pointed to the benefits for PPR of buying Puma.

"Acquiring Puma would provide PPR with an international brand carrying strong worldwide recognition, as well as diversification into the sportswear industry, which enjoys strong growth prospects," the agency said.

A stake of more than 25% in a German company gives the holder a blocking minority, ensuring significant influence over decisions.

Mayfair manager Rainer Kutzner said that "it was not an easy decision" to sell the stake, but that PPR was an "ideal partner" for Puma and the deal was a rare opportunity.

Hamburg-based Mayfair is an asset management company for members of the Herz family, which founded Germany's Tchibo coffee and clothing retailer. Siblings Guenter and Daniele Herz took their stake in Puma, via Mayfair, in May 2005.

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