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PPR Increases Gucci Stake

NEW YORK — Cutting the size of the bill coming due in 2004, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA quietly added 1 percent to its stake in Gucci Group NV during the past two months.<br><br>According to a Schedule 13D filed with the Securities and Exchange...

NEW YORK — Cutting the size of the bill coming due in 2004, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA quietly added 1 percent to its stake in Gucci Group NV during the past two months.

According to a Schedule 13D filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, PPR, through its Scholefield Goodmann BV subsidiary in The Netherlands, acquired a total of 1,097,323 common shares of Gucci between Oct. 17 and Dec. 24, boosting its stake in the Dutch luxury powerhouse to 54.1 percent of outstanding shares. This reduces the percentage of Gucci shares held by other parties to 45.9 percent.

The calculation of PPR’s stake was based on Gucci’s 100,460,637 shares outstanding as of Nov. 30, the Schedule 13D said. David Katz of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Gucci’s U.S. counsel, noted that that figure could fluctuate based on stock options and other considerations.

PPR said the purchases were made from available funds but didn’t elaborate.

Because PPR has pledged to buy all shares of Gucci it doesn’t own in 2004 for $101.50 each, the transactions cut the size of the amount due by about $111.4 million. PPR doled out about $102.1 million for the stock, according to the Schedule 13D, so the purchases represent about a $9.3 million savings for the French retailing giant.

Gucci shares closed at $90.53, up 78 cents, or 0.9 percent, Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 1,000 shares above its average of 250,409 shares a day.

PPR made 48 purchases on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and three on the NYSE during the period. In total, the Amsterdam acquisitions came to 997,323 shares for $93.1 million and those in the U.S. to 100,000 shares for $8.9 million. In Amsterdam, prices ranged from a low of $92.57 on Nov. 13 to a high of $94.95 on Nov. 6. The largest blocks were 50,000 shares each, on both Oct. 28 and Nov. 13. Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at the current exchange rate of 1.0366 dollars per euro. The euro has traded for more than $1 for most of this month, but was less than parity for most of the period covered in the Schedule 13D.

The largest single trade during the two months was on the NYSE on Oct. 29, when PPR acquired 58,000 Gucci shares at $89 a share for a total purchase price of $5.2 million. Another purchase of 22,000 shares on the same day cost PPR $88.75 a share, or $2 million, and the other New York trade, on Nov. 5, entailed 20,000 shares at $91.50 a share, or $1.8 million.

Securities traded in the U.S. are required to report to the SEC cumulative and individual stock transactions that effect swings in ownership of 1 percent or more for firms or individuals with stake in a firm of 5 percent or more.

Katz, of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Gucci’s U.S. counsel, told WWD that the share purchases would have no material effect on PPR’s pending acquisition of all shares held by others in 2004. “PPR is obligated to make an offer in 2004 regardless of the number of shares acquired,” he said. “To the extent that they’re holding certain shares already, there are fewer shares to be tendered.”

Last Thursday, Gucci Group reported that weakness in its core Gucci division and higher losses at Yves Saint Laurent had reduced third-quarter profits by 14.4 percent, to $54.2 million, as sales rose 3.2 percent to $660.9 million. Revenues in the Gucci division dropped 5.1 percent to $364.5 million as its operating profit before goodwill amortization fell 11.8 percent to $93 million.

As reported, PPR has been in discussions to sell a number of its credit holdings as it seeks to allay investor fears about its debt load of approximately $6 billion. French entrepreneur François Pinault controls PPR through his Artemis family holding group.