NEW YORK — Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, which acquired Ann Taylor Stores in a management-led leveraged buyout in 1989, plans to sell 4 million shares of it in a secondary offering.

This will reduce its stake in the company to 32.6 percent from 52.3 percent.

Ann Taylor itself plans to sell 1 million shares.

At current market prices of 32 1/2, Merrill Lynch would raise $130 million from the offering. In February 1989, a Merrill Lynch group acquired Ann Taylor from Allied Stores for $90 million in cash. The sales by Merrill Lynch are its first since the acquisition. After the offering, Merrill Lynch will hold 7.47 million shares.

Ann Taylor plans to use its proceeds — about $32.5 million, at current market prices — to reduce long-term debt.

Ann Taylor went public in May 1991 at $26 a share, and market enthusiasts quickly bid the stock of the upscale specialty chain to an all-time high of 35 1/2. However, sluggish sales in the second half of 1991 and the resignation of Joseph E. Brooks, then chairman and chief executive officer, depressed the stock to a low of 12 1/2 by the fourth quarter of 1991.

Ann Taylor then rebuilt itself around a new management team led by Sally Frame Kasaks, chairman and chief executive officer. Kasaks, who arrived in February 1992, had previously been chief executive officer and president at The Limited’s Abercrombie & Fitch division.

Last year, Ann Taylor’s earnings turned around and Wall Street started looking more closely at the stock.

Ann Taylor’s earnings before extraordinary items in 1993 rose to $15.6 million, or 71 cents a share, from $8.3 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier. Sales gained 9 percent, to $501.6 million from $460.2 million, and same-store sales rose 4 percent.

The offering is being underwritten by Merrill Lynch & Co., Morgan Stanley & Co., Robertson Stephens & Co. and William Blair & Co.

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