PARIS — Maus Frères SA, the Swiss retail group that owns the Lacoste brand, has launched a 5.2 billion Swedish kronor, or $810.8 million, hostile bid for Gant, the Swedish sportswear retailer that operates 310 stores.Maus snapped up 12.5 percent of Gant on the Stockholm Stock Exchange on Monday before unveiling on Tuesday a cash bid of 310 Swedish kronor, or $48.33, a share for the remainder of the company, a 31 percent premium on Gant's closing price on Monday. Currency conversions were made at current exchange rates.Gant responded to the offer by saying it would "make an assessment and revert with a recommendation to the shareholders of Gant before the acceptance period terminates."Maus' offer, good through Jan. 11, would need to be embraced by at least 50 percent of Gant shareholders.Swedish entrepreneurs Lennart Björk, Klas Käll and Staffan Wittmark are Gant's three main shareholders, with about 37 percent of the company split among them. They bought the rights to sell and design Gant clothing in Europe in the Eighties before acquiring the global rights to the brand in 1999. They then started to grow the company from its traditional men's wear business into women's and children's wear. Gant was founded in the U.S. in 1949.The Swedish businessmen floated the company on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 2006 to the tune of 241 million euros, or about $350 million. Private equity firms 3i and L Capital, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault, had invested in Gant and reaped handsome benefits in the IPO. Jean-Bernard Rondeau, general secretary for Maus, said the firm has been interested in a partnership with Gant for "some time." "It's a fantastic company with great opportunities for growth," he said.For the first nine months, Gant's net profit increased 18 percent to 175 million Swedish kronor, or $27.3 million, on brand sales of 5.85 billion Swedish kronor, or $912.1 million, up 14 percent. The brand has been expanding. In September, Gant reopened an expanded flagship on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. It was the first Gant store in America to carry all of the firm's offerings, including the women's collections, the preppy GNH line, the sophisticated Elliot Gant brand and Rugger contemporary label. Men's remains the company's bread and butter, accounting for about 75 percent of sales.Rondeau said Maus recently had approached Björk, who is Gant's chairman, with an offer to buy the company. He said Björk visited Maus executives in Switzerland and expressed interest in a deal. Maus opted to launch its bid when Björk started to drag his feet. "The bid isn't hostile," said Rondeau. "It's unsolicited. We don't want to change the team at Gant. We have great respect for what they have achieved."Rondeau said Maus wanted to accelerate Gant's expansion. "The United States and Japan would be very high on the agenda," he said."We believe that we have a very attractive cash offer for Gant and we hope that the owners will recognize that this is an attractive offer for all shareholders, and will support it," said Guy Latourrette, chief executive officer of Maus Frères International. "Even if this offer is unsolicited, we aim to get everyone onboard as soon as possible and we have no hostile intentions." Maus said the offer for Gant was not conditional on financing and that it would be financed with existing cash funds and lines of credit.Maus is Switzerland's largest privately held retail group, running department stores and specialized retail chains, as well as French sportswear brands Aigle and Lacoste, which operates some 1,000 stores around the world. Sales of all Lacoste branded products were about 2 billion euros, or $3.84 billion, last year. Maus had 2006 revenues of about 5.9 billion Swiss francs, or $5.23 billion.
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