Shares of Liz Claiborne Inc. rose 15.5 percent in mid-day trading today to $13.67 on speculation that the company is seeking $20 a share in a buyout with a private equity firm — reports the company denied.

A Liz Claiborne spokeswoman said, “Our general policy is to not respond to rumors about our company. That said, in response to media reports today, there is currently no contemplation of any strategy for the company other than executing against the operating plan we have already discussed.”

Liz’s stock has an intraday trading range between $11.82 and $15.39. At mid-day, nearly 11.6 milion shares changed hands, compared with an average three-month trading volume of 2.9 million shares.

Liz has been the subject of takeover rumors since back in 2008 when its business began deteriorating. Private equity firms then had actually circled around the two brands it currently has left in its portfolio: Lucky Brand Jeans and Juicy Couture. Of particular interest was Lucky Brand Jeans, but Liz chief exeutive officer William McComb has been steadfast about not being willing to sell off the three brands considered the jewels in the Liz umbrella.

Liz also owns Kate Spade, a growing brand that analysts believe has great growth potential, but often considered by investment bankers as still too small a business to garner a sizeable price tag.

McComb has since sold off brands and assets deemed not essential to the firm’s future. The company is changing its name to Fifth & Pacific Cos. in May to reflect its focus on its three lifestyle brands.

The Wall Street Journal first reported at mid-day today that several private equity firms has held discussions with the women’s apparel firm about taking the company private, and that Liz was asking for $20 a share, or a total deal value around $2 billion for a firm that last year had annual revenues of $1.52 billion.

Those discussions reportedly began last August when Liz was in discussions to sell its Mexx business, which it ultimately did as a joint venture agreement with the Gores Group. While the company is not actively seeking a buyer, the improving credit market is reportedly igniting private equity interest in a transaction.

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