PARIS — It's hardly his spending spree of the late Nineties, but Bernard Arnault remains one of the industry's most active, savvy and unpredictable investors.
And even as the luxury titan and chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton zeroes in on his latest conquest, the French financial daily Les Echos, he has teams of advisers hunting on a worldwide basis for other attractive places to park his money.
According to sources, the richest man in France and the seventh wealthiest in the world — with a fortune estimated at $26 billion — has retained a keen interest in real estate and has been actively investing in property, particularly in fast-developing China and Macau. It is understood that some of that real estate is to be developed into future shopping malls.
Arnault's personal monies, mostly funneled through Groupe Arnault, are also going into private equity and hedge funds (including the Canadian fund Sagard II and Los Angeles-based Colony Capital), plus direct investments in a variety of businesses, including retail. Several dedicated teams are said to be hunting for possible direct investments, with a particular interest in emerging markets.
Arnault declined to comment for this story.
Early last month, the European Commission cleared Arnault's acquisition of online travel agency Go Voyages. For that transaction, the business titan employed a new entity called Financière Agache Private Equity, part of Groupe Arnault. The firm ultimately teamed with Compagnie Nationale à Portefeuille, or CNP, an investment vehicle of the Belgian financier Albert Frere, a close friend and longtime business ally of Arnault's. (The Go Voyages founders also retain a minority of the capital.)
In March, Arnault, 58, surprised the industry by joining Colony Capital to acquire a 9.1 percent stake in Carrefour, taking the king of luxury into the supermarket aisle. Arnault's presence already seems to have had an impact: The giant retailer, the world's second-largest after Wal-Mart, has agreed to leverage its real estate assets and vowed to ramp up sales growth and profitability. On a much smaller scale, Arnault made an investment estimated at about $30 million this year in Belle International Holdings Ltd., a giant Chinese shoe retailer. His investment, at the time the company was introduced on the stock market last May, represents about 2.9 percent of Belle's shares.
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