NEW YORK — Merrill Lynch thinks the end of the Lauren and Ralph licenses at Jones Apparel Group is at hand, and it doesn’t believe the split will be good for either the licensor or licensee.

In a research note issued Friday, Merrill lowered its ratings for both Jones Apparel Group and Polo Ralph Lauren to "neutral" from "buy," saying that Jones would take a "two-year EPS hit" if the Lauren license were to be lost and that Polo already "has its hands full with the integration of its European operations, the rollout of Blue Label, consolidation of the Japan business and the expansion of its retail store base."

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