PPR buying 27.1 percent stake in Puma AG

PPR SA, French luxury goods group, announced the plans to make a friendly takeover bid that values the Puma AG at EUR5.3 billion (US$7.1 billion) and said it was buying a 27.1 percent stake in the world's third-largest sporting goods maker.

PPR, which has the Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent brands, said it was paying EUR1.4 billion (US$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 EUR330 (US$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 9.5 percent to EUR344.00 (US$459.83) in Frankfurt following a gain of more than 10 percent on Thursday, the last trading day before the Easter weekend, on talk of a possible bid. PPR shares rose 2.5 percent to EUR132.15 (US$176.65) 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."

Established in 1948, Puma is one of the world's biggest sporting goods companies after U.S.-based Nike Inc. and Adidas AG, 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 Ђ263.2 million on sales of Ђ2.37 billion.

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."

A stake of more than 25 percent 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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Author`s name Angela Antonova