NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger Corp. may have gotten too expensive to be sold.

The company on Thursday said it hired J.P. Morgan Chase to assist it in “exploring acquisitions of additional brands.”

Sources said the company has been in play in recent weeks, even though talks between Jones Apparel Group and Tommy reportedly have cooled.

The firm’s shares also cooled, dropping 77 cents, or 8.9 percent, to close at $7.85 in New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday. While above its 52-week low of $5.61, reached March 13, that’s less than half of the 52-week high of $16.50 reached last May 24.

The corporation does about $1.85 billion in annual volume. The designer for whom it is named, who owns about 4.4 percent of the company’s outstanding shares, holds a lifetime agreement as themain designer of Hilfiger-branded goods and retains the right to approve the brand’s product extensions.

A competitor said of the firm, “Tommy is too rich right now. A purchase would require a huge financial package to cover the corporate acquisition. Then there’s the matter regarding the designer’s contract, which would require at least $25 million for a buyout.”

The designer is contractually entitled to receive 1.5 percent of U.S. revenues in excess of $48 million.

David Lamer, a former analyst at Ferris, Baker Watts who covered Tommy and is now a principal at Joshuatown Advisors, a retail and apparel advisory firm, observed: “It would be hard for anyone to acquire Tommy. The company has nearly $500 million in cash and an incredibly strong balance sheet. It would want a good strong multiple for its cash position.

“What people are anticipating is that here is this great brand that is beat up and they can therefore buy the house for a really cheap price. Firms that are looking to buy Tommy for $1 billion are not going to get it.”

Some think that Tommy is a brand that has seen far better days. Jennifer Black, analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, in a research note two weeks ago about Jones Apparel Group and its possible acquisition of the Tommy business, wrote: “We also believe that Tommy, particularly its men’s business, is a dying brand whose reputation has been subjected to serious degradation, and that it would take a significant amount of work to reposition the brand.”Its problems notwithstanding, Lamer thinks the name is far from passé.

“Tommy at this point is similar to Liz Claiborne when the designer retired. Many thought that Liz was a dying brand, when it was really a mature brand. The business was stagnant for several years but Paul Charron, its chief executive officer, has been great as a product manager making sure that Liz is growing steadily.”

Virginia Genereux, analyst at Merrill Lynch, wrote in a research note Thursday: “Though we think the company is certainly entertaining buyout offers as well, this [hiring of J.P. Morgan Chase] would suggest that the inclination of the board, and of Tommy Hilfiger himself [a key decision maker by virtue of his lifetime right of approval over any extension of the Tommy brand], may be to remain independent. We think investors would like to see the company sold.”

Jumping on the acquisition trail is a strategy that has worked for many apparel firms, namely Liz Claiborne and Jones.

Joel Horowitz, chairman and ceo, said in a statement regarding Tommy’s acquisition strategy, “I strongly support this direction for our company as we look to build upon our established global lifestyle brand to move to the next stage in the company’s development, expanding into a multibrand, multichannel business.”

Tommy Hilfiger on Thursday also upped guidance for fourth-quarter results, expected to be announced on June 5. It attributed the raised guidance to improved inventory controls and a stronger contribution from its European operations. The company expects earnings per share between 26 and 31 cents before special charges — versus consensus estimates of 17 cents a share — and a net loss between $1.26 and $1.31 per share. For the year, the company expects diluted EPS before special items between $1.34 and $1.39, and a net loss between $5.68 and $5.73 per share.

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