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Prada Eyes Real Estate

MILAN — Prada may have found an alternative to bring down its debt: Sell off real estate.<br><br>Contemplating its future after postponing its initial public offering for the third time, a company spokeswoman said Prada is studying a "variety of...

MILAN — Prada may have found an alternative to bring down its debt: Sell off real estate.

Contemplating its future after postponing its initial public offering for the third time, a company spokeswoman said Prada is studying a “variety of opportunities,” including a possible real estate spinoff and a bond guaranteed by those assets.

Prada has real estate assets worth $556.3 million.

Prada’s substantial amount of real estate supports numerous stores in high-rent districts. Under the terms of a potential plan, Prada would confer its real estate assets to a special-purpose vehicle, which would be jointly owned by a bank. This vehicle would then issue bonds guaranteed by the value of the property.

The Prada spokeswoman said no final decision has been made, and a real estate sale is among the various options the company is mulling.

Prada has been under increasing pressure to pare down its debt pile amassed from a string of acquisitions, including Jil Sander, Helmut Lang and Church & Co. Selling off stakes in Byblos and Fendi helped Prada reduce its net financial debt to about $843.2 million from $964.3 million at the end of 2001.

Riccardo Stilli, chief financial officer of Prada, said earlier this month that the company was not gearing up to sell off assets or seek fresh bank loans in a bid for cash, as reported. In addition, the company shrugged off its concerns about its debt pile. “The strategy is that, as soon as market conditions allow, we will go ahead [with the IPO],” Stilli said. “The strong commitment of the company is going public. Right now, from a financial point of view, we can handle it as it is.”

Prada, which in June postponed its IPO indefinitely, said earlier this month that it planned to stay the course, curtailing costs and investments if the downturn in the luxury goods market persists. It said it was banking on an IPO by June 2005 — when Prada’s $694.4 million worth of convertible bonds mature and must be paid back if the company doesn’t go public. If there is an IPO, those bonds can be converted into shares.

This story first appeared in the July 22, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As reported Friday, Prada chief executive Patrizio Bertelli told WWD he had no regrets about postponing the IPO. “Our choice was correct, and we haven’t had second thoughts. The Italian stock market has lost 8 percent since then, and I think many investors are in a wait-and-see mood now.” He said that scandals such as Enron and WorldCom have caused investors to “lose faith” in stocks and perhaps invest in other areas, such as real estate.

For the most part, analysts have said they don’t consider Prada’s debt an urgent problem. But they did say things could become more serious if poor market conditions for luxury goods persist and strain cash flow. As reported, Prada posted a lackluster first quarter, in which earnings before interest and taxes dropped 61 percent to $29.1 million from $74.5 million, while net sales fell 15.4 percent to $401.08 million from $474.7 million.