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Fast Retailing Makes Strong Debut in Hong Kong

The retailer's secondary shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange gained more than 5 percent in their first day of trade.

Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. made a strong debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Wednesday, with its shares surging 5.6 percent amid press reports the company is in talks to buy J. Crew Group Inc. for up to $5 billion.

The Hong Kong Depository Receipts (HDRs) of Uniqlo’s corporate parent ended the day 5.6 percent higher at 28.9 Hong Kong dollars, or $3.72 at current exchange. Each HDR represents one-hundredth of the company’s Tokyo-traded stock. Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index ended the day down 0.3 percent.

Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing, rang the Hong Kong exchange’s opening bell Wednesday. The executive appeared to dodge questions on a potential J. Crew deal throughout the day. He and other executives met with journalists and analysts after the trading day ended but only took three questions, abruptly ending the meeting before anyone asked about J. Crew. A Fast Retailing spokesman said the J. Crew question came up at different points earlier in the day and Yanai reiterated the company’s no-comment stance.

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Yanai did make a general comment regarding acquisitions during the briefing, stating that the Japanese retailer is focusing on organic growth to expand and internationalize its business, particularly in Asia and the U.S., as it aims to reach its long-standing sales target of 5 trillion yen, or $49 billion, by 2020.

“Rather than acquisitions, organic growth is what we aspire to achieve. We believe that good management practice is the key, and I personally feel that good management practice goes beyond borders,” he said, adding that Hong Kong has a very special place in his heart and was the first overseas place that he visited.

Its been reported that Fast Retailing is in talks to buy J. Crew from TPG and Leonard Green & Partners for up to $5 billion and a deal, if completed, could be finalized within the next two months. Such a transaction would dramatically transform Fast Retailing, which still does the bulk of its business in Japan, but is seeking to become the world’s largest clothing retailer.

Yanai said he has ambitious plans for Uniqlo in the U.S., where the brand has 17 stores in the New York and San Francisco areas. Another 20 Uniqlo stores are expected to open in the U.S. this year.

“We are developing a full-scale retail chain and aim to become the number-one brand in the U.S.,” the executive said, without specifying a time frame for that goal. “We are developing a 100-store network on the East and West Coasts, opening 20 to 30 stores a year.”

Uniqlo is also aiming to extend its reach in China, where it already has a more developed retail structure. The company plans to nearly triple its number of stores in Greater China over the next 10 years from the current 374 to 1,000 and eventually to 3,000.

The brand is also expanding in other markets. It will open Berlin and Melbourne, Australia, in April, and executives said Milan and Barcelona stores will follow.

Fast Retailing has said it was pursuing a secondary listing in Hong Kong to boost its profile in fast-growing Asian markets and broaden its investor base. The company did not issue new shares, so it is not raising capital through the operation. The company’s shares in Tokyo, its main listing, ended the day 3 percent higher at 36,975 yen, or $363.14 at current exchange.