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Elf Aquitane Expected to Jettison its Stake in Bidermann International

PARIS -- French petroleum giant Elf Aquitaine is expected to announce Thursday that it will pull the plug on its stake in Bidermann International.<BR><BR>Elf holds about 13 percent of Bidermann SA, the holding company that controls Bidermann...

PARIS — French petroleum giant Elf Aquitaine is expected to announce Thursday that it will pull the plug on its stake in Bidermann International.

Elf holds about 13 percent of Bidermann SA, the holding company that controls Bidermann International. The value of Elf’s stake reportedly ranges between $118.6 million and $169.5 million (700 million and one billion francs at current exchange rates).

Maurice Bidermann, Bidermann’s chairman, owns 72 percent of the company. The remainder is held by banks and institutions.

If Elf goes ahead with its disinvestment, Bidermann’s chore in managing its debt load will become increasingly difficult as it might not have a financial partner ready to make capital increases, as Elf did last summer.

Bidermann’s debt is roughly $172 million, much of it stemming from the company’s 1990 acquisition of U.S. shirt and hosiery firm Cluett, Peabody.

Elf chairman Philippe Jaffre is expected to discuss the Bidermann stake Thursday at a presentation of the group’s 1993 provisional financial results. Jaffre, a conservative government appointee, took over the reins of Elf last August, after predecessor Loik Le Floch-Prigent’s contract was up. Le Floch-Prigent is close to French socialist politicians, including French president Francois Mitterand, and is a personal friend of Maurice Bidermann. Last fall, Jaffre said he wanted to reexamine some of the holdings acquired during Le Floch-Prigent’s tenure, which amount to an estimated $2.5 billion (15 billion francs). Jaffre also requested an audit of Bidermann’s operations. This news comes at a time when Bidermann is expecting to post a loss of some $20 million (about 120 million francs) on sales of $762 million (4.5 billion francs) for 1993.

Bidermann executives here could not be reached for comment late Monday.

In addition to Cluett Peabody, Bidermann operates Ralph Lauren Womenswear and Yves Saint Laurent men’s wear in the U.S.