MILAN — After 26 years on the Milan Stock Exchange, Benetton Group is bidding it “ciao.”
Parent company Edizione Srl said late Friday that it considered the result of the tender offer to buy the 25.15 percent of Benetton shares it did not already own, launched on March 5 and ended on March 30, “satisfying.” Shares were priced at 4.60 euros, or $6.04 at current exchange.
Provisional data communicated by Banca IMI SpA, Mediobanca Banca di Credito Finanziario SpA and UniCredit SpA revealed that 31,994,105 shares were tendered, for a value of 147.2 million euros, or $195.8 million.
After the process, Edizione will own a total of 168,735,687 shares, or 92.37 percent of Benetton. “Although, based on these provisional results, it has not reached a stake of at least 95 percent, Edizione waives the conditions of minimum level of acceptance,” deeming the tender offer “satisfying,” the holding said.
The Italian clothing and textile manufacturer is a small part of Edizione’s holdings, which range from highway catering and communications to real estate and agriculture.
“This is a way to hand over the company in a precise and definite way to [executive deputy chairman] Alessandro Benetton, who will newly shape it for growth,” said a Milan-based analyst. Sources here said that Benetton, the son of co-founder Luciano Benetton, will take on his father’s role as chairman in April.
“Alessandro will focus on the group’s retail network,” said a source. “There are too many franchised stores, and the company wants to become stronger with its own banners.” Alessandro Benetton, added the source, is known for his international vision and financial experience. He started his career at Goldman Sachs, in global finance, as a mergers and acquisitions analyst, and he went on to set up the private equity fund 21 Investimenti SpA in 1992.
Benetton’s real estate portfolio was at the center of ongoing speculation over the past few weeks, as analysts questioned the share price, given the value of the group’s property assets, estimated at about 1 billion euros, or $1.31 billion at current exchange. “Minority shareholders were hoping for a higher share price, but the offer was successful anyway, and there was no opposition from the board,” said an analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There were grumblings, as it appeared that the value of the real estate assets had not been taken into account, and I think these recriminations were fair enough.”
One analyst said the Benettons bought back their real estate assets and core business at a convenient price. “The choices were either to spin off their real estate or buy off the minority shareholders, and they went for the second option.”
One source firmly denied that Benetton has plans to break up the business. “It doesn’t make any sense to sell the stores and cash out, as the visibility and prime location of these units are priceless. And the fact that Alessandro is up next proves that it’s not an option to sell the brand,” said the source.
It appears Benetton has big plans for the U.S. in particular. In February, Ari Hoffman was named president and chief executive officer of the group’s U.S. operations, succeeding Carlo Tunioli, who had been president and will now become senior vice president of communications for North America. Hoffman served as ceo of Gant USA from 2000 until this past October, when he was named ceo of Gant Latin America.
Benetton has been battling changing consumer tastes, rising raw material costs and the weak economies of Europe, especially Italy, its largest market. The company’s shares fell to as low as 3 euros late last year, compared with a high of 15 euros in 2006.