By  on October 9, 2007

LONDON — Is Apax Partners already mulling a stock market listing for Tommy Hilfiger?

According to a report in the Financial Times Monday, the private equity group has invited "several" investment banks to pitch for the business of a potential initial public offering. Apax purchased Hilfiger in September 2005 for $1.6 billion.

An Apax spokesman declined to comment Monday. However, an industry source close to the group indicated Apax had approached the banks, but said the matter was "still sensitive."

The Times said the business could be valued at up to $3 billion, including debt.

A London-based investor said Monday: "It's not a bad time to float as equity markets are still holding up, despite the problems with the subprime market in the U.S." He said banks would likely form a syndicate to pitch for the business.

A flotation of Hilfiger was likely from the moment Apax bought the American fashion brand, given private equity firms traditionally seek to sell or float a company within three to five years of buying it. While a Hilfiger IPO in the near future would be sooner than that time frame, investors stressed that even though Apax might be asking banks to bid for the business, that doesn't mean an IPO is imminent.

One investor said a flotation could not realistically take place "before six months," as time was needed to evaluate pitches, fix bankers' fees and prepare potential investors for a listing.

Hilfiger officials declined comment Monday. However, any IPO of the brand in the near future would face a significant hurdle in that the designer's business in the U.S. is still being rebuilt after several years of declining sales. While growth in women's wholesale sales has been strong in the last few months, Hilfiger has admitted the bulk of sales continue to come from Europe.

Hilfiger said in June that he was looking for a creative director for the brand, a position that has not yet been filled.

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