The Playboy is Decidedly a Tidbit

  The Playboy is attractive business with ambiguous content, according to investors. 

  Shares of Playboy Enterprises soared 42 %yesterday on bets the aging adult-entertainment empire could soon be the target of a bidding war.

  The stock rose $1.21 to $4.07 on reports the soft-porn magazine publisher is in talks to sell itself to Iconix Group -- the New York-based acquirer of fashion brands like Joe Boxer, Rocawear, Ocean Pacific and Badgely Mischka.

  Iconix shares slumped 3.2 % to $11.76 on worries that Iconix CEO Neil Cole is mounting an ill-advised acquisition binge. Last month, shares slumped after the company announced a deal to acquire the debt-ridden streetwear brand Marc Ecko.

  Iconix is only the latest in a line of investors to have sneaked a peek at Playboy's books. Other interested parties have included Oak Hill Capital Partners and Monarch Alternative Capital, as well as Hilco Consumer Capital -- a Toronto-based buyout shop that has partnered to scoop up brands as diverse as Polaroid, Sharper Image and Linens 'n Things.

  The iconic brand known for its bunny logo has been shopped around since the spring. Since then, sources said, Playboy's books have been eyed by a wide range of prospective investors, from media and publishing moguls to retailers.

  "It's a great company and it has the potential to make a lot of money," said one prospective bidder who declined to be identified. "You could license the [Playboy] Mansion for restaurants, bars and strip joints."

  Still, it's not clear that any deal is imminent. One potential stumbling block is the whim of 83-year-old Hugh Hefner, who controls 70 % of Playboy's stock.

  The legendary founder is looking for a premium as he tries to pay off debt and finance his lavish lifestyle while at the same time keeping his pioneering porn publication alive.

  Some people have  balked at Playboy's network of business relationships, which, as one investor put it, includes "sleazy porn sites and strip clubs."

  "I might be inclined to give it a shot myself if my mother wasn't still alive and I didn't have a teenage daughter," said one publishing executive who waved off an approach by a potential Playboy suitor.

  Another private-equity investor who recently got a look under Playboy's kimono concurred.

  "I've tried to get my head around the kinds of people you'd do business with," he said. "You've got to ask yourself whether you really want to be in that."

The New York Post  has contributed to the report.

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