By and  on August 12, 2005

NEW YORK — Following a two-day meeting of the Saks Inc. board here this week, expectations are mounting that just about the entire company could soon be sold.

Sources said Aug. 22 is a new deadline for bids, either for the northern department store group or all of Saks Inc., including Saks Fifth Avenue. Officially, though, only the northern department store group, which includes Carson Pirie Scott, Bergner's and The Boston Store, and the Club Libby Lu specialty chain, is for sale.

According to retail and financial sources, the bidding deadline was extended by a week from Aug. 15 to provide latecomers time to prepare bids for all of Saks Inc.

A Saks Inc. spokeswoman declined comment on Thursday.

Saks Inc. typically has a quarterly board meeting in August, but sources noted the meeting was held earlier this time than in the past, perhaps signifying some pressure on the company to act.

According to sources, some board members privately are leaning to unloading the entire company, but it is not clear whether the topic came up during the meeting itself or afterward among certain members.

One retail source said the performance of the retail operations was discussed and that there is concern over whether the Saks Fifth Avenue turnaround efforts are proceeding as expected. A big test for SFA will come this fall, when the company unfurls a major cashmere promotion. Management has been talking it up.

Adding to an already complicated situation, Saks Inc. is under investigation by the government for certain chargeback and accounting procedures. Several employees have already been fired.

As previously reported, Bon-Ton Stores Inc. and Cerberus Capital Management are expected to present a joint bid for SFA and the northern department store group that could go as high as $30 a share, or a little more than $4 billion for the entire company. Cerberus already owns Rafaella Sportswear, Mervyns and Fila.

Other private equity firms said to be eyeing a run for almost all of Saks Inc. include Bain Capital Partners, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Apollo Management. Some of the private equity firms could form a consortium.

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