NEW YORK — Phil Marineau had a succinct explanation Monday for why Levi Strauss & Co. decided to pull its Dockers brand off the selling block: “We weren’t going to give it away.”

Levi’s president and chief executive officer said in a phone interview, “We always said that this was a strategic choice that we were taking to try and strengthen the financial performance of the company by reducing the debt with a large paydown, but this wasn’t a desperation sale and we weren’t going to do it unless we got our full value for the business.”

Levi’s executives said that bidders failed to meet the target price the San Francisco-based company had set for the $1 billion casual pants unit.

“The buyer set was not getting to the right value, and we made the strategic decision to keep the business,” said Jim Fogarty, Levi’s acting chief financial officer.

Levi’s did not disclose what number it had been seeking, though sources said it was significantly higher than the minimum threshold of more than $600 million agreed to by its bondholders. Levi’s said in a filing last month with the Securities & Exchange Commission that its lenders had signed off on the sale so long as it reduced the firm’s debt by at least 30 percent. When Levi’s third quarter closed on Aug. 29, its total debt stood at $2 billion.

Sources said the firm had been holding out for $800 million to $900 million for the business, which it had put on the block in May.

“They just overpriced themselves,” said one financial analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The news of the decision prompted Levi’s bonds to slip 3.5 cents to $1.03 on the dollar by Monday afternoon, according to financial sources.

The brand had attracted the attention of many of the apparel industry’s largest players and firms, including Li & Fung Ltd., VF Corp., Kellwood Co., Liz Claiborne Inc., Jones Apparel Group, Perry Ellis International and Haggar Corp., and several private equity groups were said to have considered making a bid. The business’ large size limited the pool of potential acquirers, and sources said Levi’s insistence on a price that exceeded 80 percent of revenue turned off many prospective buyers.

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