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PPR Receives Offer From Office Depot

PARIS — Pinault-Printemps-Redoute is speeding ahead with its plan to shed business-to-business holdings in favor of consumer retail and luxury. <br><br>The distribution giant, controlled by French billionaire François Pinault, said Tuesday...

PARIS — Pinault-Printemps-Redoute is speeding ahead with its plan to shed business-to-business holdings in favor of consumer retail and luxury.

The distribution giant, controlled by French billionaire François Pinault, said Tuesday it received an offer of $863.9 million in cash from America’s Office Depot group to acquire Guilbert, its office supplies business.

Meanwhile, word circulated here that Pinault Bois Materiaux, a wood and construction supplies business around which Pinault initially built his group, would be sold for about $580 million within the next few weeks.

All dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates.

A spokeswoman for PPR declined comment on the matter, but press reports said advanced negotiations were under way with four potential buyers, including investment funds Paribas Affaires Industrielles and Barclays Private Equity.

“PPR is pursuing its strategy of refocusing on the individual customer and divesting of its business-to-business activities,” said Serge Weinberg, the group’s chief executive officer, in a statement.

Weinberg said earlier in the year that PPR would “redeploy” the group in favor of higher-margin retail and luxury activities.

Financial markets questioned PPR’s widely diversified strategy since it gained control of Gucci Group in 1999 after a bitter takeover battle with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Markets also pondered whether PPR, with around $6 billion in debt, would be able to meet an obligation to buy all of the Gucci stock it doesn’t own in 2004 for $101.50 a share. PPR presently owns 61 percent of Gucci and can bump that up to 70 percent by acquiring shares on the open market before next year.

Easing its debt, PPR last year sold its financial services arm for about $3 billion, and generated another $875 million when it unloaded Guilbert’s mail-order division to Staples Inc.

As reported, PPR also shuffled top management late last week in preparation of its new profile. Denis Olivennes, a former Canal Plus pay TV executive, was named president of the so-called home division, which includes the Fnac music and book chain and the Conforma furniture retailer, while Thierry Falque-Pierrotin was given responsibility for the apparel-related businesses, including the Printemps department stores.

PPR stock inched up 0.19 percent in trading on the Paris Bourse, closing at $56.18.