By and  on January 18, 2005

PARIS — The face of beauty retailing is about to undergo a dramatic change.If given the green light, A.S. Watson’s friendly acquisition of Marionnaud Perfumeries will create the world’s largest perfumery cosmetics seller, with more than 5,662 doors and projected annual sales of $10.2 billion. On Friday, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.’s A.S. Watson subsidiary announced a public offer for Marionnaud, confirming market reports, in a cash bid of $699.6 million, or 534 million euros. The per-share price offer is $28.56, or 21.80 euros, and the per-share OCEANE (bonds convertible into new shares or exchangeable for existing shares) price offer is $91.35, or 69.74 euros. The total cost of the transaction, including debt, is estimated at $1.18 billion, or 900 million euros.The acquisition’s approval is expected in March and is conditional on A.S. Watson’s getting more than 50.1 percent of the issued share capital. The company, owned by the Chinese entrepreneur Li Ka-shing, would like to take Marionnaud private, but to do so it would have to obtain over 95 percent of its shares.The Frydman family, which owns almost 20 percent of Marionnaud, has agreed to the terms of the deal. Credit Agricole Group’s CAPE Holding has also said it would tender its shares, which make up 8.9 percent of the perfumery’s share capital.A.S. Watson and Marionnaud executives say their firms can generate important synergies, in terms of marketing and merchandising, for instance.“Why Marionnaud? We’ve been looking at France for a few years now,” said Ian Wade, group managing director, A.S. Watson Group, at an analyst and press conference Friday here. “Marionnaud is a great brand, with 30 percent market share” domestically. He added A.S. Watson hasn’t yet penetrated the French market. Nor has it entered Italy, Spain, Austria or Switzerland — among the 15 countries where Marionnaud is already a leader. It has 1,226 doors. “Everything about us and Marionnaud is quite complementary,” said Wade.Marcel Frydman, founder and chief executive officer of Marionnaud, agreed. “We have many common values,” he said, adding A.S. Watson is the best partner for Marionnaud’s development. “It’s a happy marriage for everyone.”It is also one that was needed for Marionnaud. Its stock price lost more than 30 percent of its value on Dec. 21 following its posting of net results for the January-June 2004 period. Losses came in at $103.5 million, or 79 million euros, against net profits of $8.4 million, or 6.4 million euros, in the first six months of 2003. Sales for the first half of 2004 were $675 million, or 515.3 million euros, up 8.5 percent year-on-year.The perfumery chain’s first-half 2004 results were negatively impacted by changes in accounting methods concerning loyalty points and the correction of errors dating back to 2002 and 2003.If A.S. Watson’s takeover goes ahead, it hopes to grow Marionnaud internationally “We have a few pieces to put in the jigsaw yet,” said Wade, who added that, among other places, South America is on the docket for possible expansion, as is Mexico.Wade also said it is possible, once his company learns the French market better, that A.S. Watson could introduce a new health and beauty retailer here. A.S. Watson is already the world’s number one health and beauty seller. The company owns 3,483 such doors through Watsons in Asia, plus Superdrug, Trekpleister, Rossmann, Drogas, Kruidvat, Ici Paris XL and Savers in Europe. Other holdings include Nuance-Watson in airport duty-free; Park Shop, Great and Taste in food retailing; Fortress in electrical retailing, and Watson’s Wine Cellar in fine wine retailing. The addition of Marionnaud would make A.S. Watson a $10.2 billion business, compared with its estimated sales of $8.76 billion last year.No major staff changes are expected as a result of a buyout.“We will be working with the Frydman family,” said Wade.Marcel Frydman will remain Marionnaud’s ceo and Gerald Frydman will stay on as managing director.

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