Will Fila Join Nike Family?

Nike could be working on a deal to buy troubled athleticwear maker Fila from Italy’s HdP, but nobody’s admitting it.

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NEW YORK — If Nike is interested in buying Fila, nobody’s admitting it.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Asked to comment on an Italian press report Wednesday that said Nike is working with Morgan Stanley on a proposal to purchase Fila for $429 million, Fila’s parent, Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali SpA, said it had no news regarding Fila and that it is in ongoing negotiations with an unnamed party. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange rates.

A Nike spokeswoman declined to comment, other than to say the company does not comment on rumors. Jon Epstein, president and chief executive officer of Fila USA, was traveling and could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, Nike senior executives were battened down Wednesday preparing for an all-day board meeting slated for today.

According to the article in Il Sole, about $300 million of the proposed price would be deducted for debt. Should the declaration of interest become official, Nike would request an exclusive on the negotiations in order to arrive at a definitive offer, the article continued.

In the past year or two, Nike and Fila have tried to strike a balance between athletics and the fashion world. Each has modified collections to give them more of a fashion flair, since more women are wearing activewear for nonathletic purposes.

As reported, Fila, lacking prospects for short-term profitability or even assurances of funding from its principal owner, is turning to the equity markets to generate sorely needed funds. The company, warning that it doesn’t expect a profit until 2005, is offering up to 25.7 million new shares priced at $1.73 each, for a potential capital increase of $44.6 million.

The $900 million sportswear brand, which has lost money every year since 1998, has been on the selling block since June 2001, as HdP has been shedding its fashion interests to focus on its publishing operations. Fila said in a prospectus filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission this month: “We have a history of operating and net losses that we expect to continue for some period of time. These historical and future losses limit our ability to pay dividends on our ordinary shares; make it more difficult to obtain credit and otherwise operate normally; impair our ability to make capital expenditures that could be necessary for our business, and adversely affect the market price of our [American depository shares].”

During an interview last summer, Epstein said he had sat in on a handful of meetings, but declined to name the interested parties. At that time, Epstein pinned the asking price at more than $500 million, due primarily to the brand’s $300 million in worldwide debt.

“HdP is anxious to find a new partner or owner, but it’s not going to just take a deal that is unfair to its shareholders. It is committed to the ongoing growth of the Fila brand,” Epstein said. “We want to get a respectable price or investment that will add some value to this brand for the future. We’re not just going to let it go to anybody. They will get the value of a great global brand.”

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