By  on January 12, 2018

PARIS — Puma SE will forge ahead with its current strategy even as its luxury owner Kering steps back from the company by spinning off the bulk of its holdings, chief executive officer Bjørn Gulden said on Friday.In a conference call with journalists, Gulden navigated a fine line between welcoming Kering’s approach to divesting shares while downplaying the implications of the move on the German sporting goods firm.“I think in the daily workings, there is no change — we have a strategy, we have a plan, we are executing it,” Gulden said.Under his leadership, Puma has positioned itself clearly as a sports brand, while drawing on fashion to shore up its appeal with younger generations. The company has been posting strong financial results in recent quarters, raising pressure on Kering to offload the asset before it grew too big, in order to concentrate on its luxury activities.The idea of a Puma divestment had been widely discussed by analysts in recent months.Kering said on Thursday it will distribute 70 percent of its stake in Puma to shareholders, while keeping 16 percent, in a transaction that remains subject to approval from shareholders at its annual meeting on April 26.If approved, the move will leave Artemis, which belongs to the Pinault family and owns 40.9 percent of Kering, with a 29 percent stake in Puma. The German company, meanwhile, will be left with 55 percent of its stock free floating on the market.The enlarged proportion of free float and bigger trading volumes will make the company attractive to investors, Gulden said, referring to Artemis and Kering as anchor investors. In mid-morning trading, Puma shares were down 5.3 percent.Cedric Lecasble, analyst with Raymond James, said Puma’s share price prior to the announcement likely incorporated some hopes that the firm would be disposed of at a premium, to financial investors, for example. Looking at a previous Kering divestiture, the books and electronics retailer Fnac, Lecasble pointed out that there had been strong initial pressure on Fnac shares, but that they later skyrocketed.Lecasble, who considers Puma a “strong recovery story,” said in a research note that the Puma transaction is “obviously not the best exit solution for Puma’s minority shareholders, at least in the short term.”Prodded by journalists about whether the company risked losing out on synergies with Kering, Gulden stressed Puma’s independence.“They have helped us where we needed help and there have been synergies, but where we’re standing today there are very few operational…advantages of being with Kering. We are already very independent and I think that’s why this transaction makes so much sense," the executive said. "We don’t see any disadvantages on anything in this transaction when it gets to our business.”Gulden suggested that the company might gain the advantage of speed in decision-making. “It’s obvious that if you are an independent company with a big free float and not part of a group, the decision-taking is quicker because there’s no group to talk to,” he added.Puma has no plans to purchase Kering’s Volcom brand, according to Gulden.“Having more brands in our portfolio is not an option at this point in time,” he said, noting an intent to focus on Puma and its golf brand, Cobra.“Given the performance of Puma over the last years, I have to say that Kering has been a very good owner and very supportive in helping us improve the business,” he said.“Don’t forget that the Pinault family indirectly or directly still has a 45 percent ownership. It’s a pretty big stake, and I’m sure if we need help from them or support or whatever, I’m sure they’ll be helpful,” Gulden said.

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