PARIS — Asian financial holding group Fortune Fountain Capital said on Friday it had agreed to buy 88.8 percent of the share capital of French crystal maker Baccarat from U.S. investment firm Starwood Capital Group and private equity fund L Catterton in a deal valued at 164 million euros, or $147 million at current exchange.
The agreement brings together a leading Chinese firm specialized in wealth management and experiential luxury with one of Europe’s oldest purveyors of exclusive crystal creations, ranging from made-to-measure chandeliers to Champagne glasses and jewelry pieces.
FFC is offering 222.70 euros, or $251.17, per share, below the company’s closing price of 259.90 euros, or $291.93, on the Paris Stock Exchange on Thursday. After the closing of the block purchase, it will file a mandatory tender offer for the remaining free-floating shares at the same price per share.
However, it does not plan to have Baccarat delisted from Euronext Paris for the time being.
Daniela Riccardi, chief executive officer of Baccarat since 2013, will remain in her post. In an interview with WWD, she pledged continuity for the crystal maker, saying that FFC will maintain the entire production and workforce in the French town of Baccarat, where the company was founded in 1764.
“I always say that the heart of Baccarat is the production facility and the know-how of Baccarat. Without those, frankly, there is no Baccarat,” she said, in response to concerns raised by unions and by the head of France’s luxury association Comité Colbert.
“I never planned [job cuts] even when the company was losing money,” Riccardi said, noting that Baccarat plans to hire 40 people this year.
In a meeting with journalists on Thursday, Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president and ceo of Comité Colbert, said she hoped that a French company would bid for Baccarat, suggesting that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton would be a good candidate.
Riccardi noted that while FFC began as a family office, it has since diversified into organizing services for its clients such as private jet transport, luxury hotel accommodation or golf tournaments, providing good potential for synergies. “They are not simply people with money, but also people with culture,” she said.
“When they approached us, I found that unlike typical investment funds, the nature and interests of Fortune Fund were much closer to Baccarat and to the direction in which I am trying to lead Baccarat, which goes beyond the narrow world of crystal and is really about luxury living,” Riccardi added.
“I want and need someone who will invest actively and heavily in the expansion and development of Baccarat, but more importantly, someone who understands the brand, who has a passion for the brand, and who sees it as a natural extension of their business with an ultra-luxury clientele,” she said.
Coco Chu, chairwoman of FFC, has pledged to invest between 20 million euros and 30 million euros, or $22.4 million to $33.8 million, in Baccarat over the next two years, according to Riccardi. FFC is willing to commit up to 50 million euros, or $56 million, to support the company’s five-year growth plan, she added.
“We are convinced that FFC, with its extensive global business network, is an ideal strategic partner to position Baccarat for future growth and value creation,” Chu said in a statement. “We attach the greatest importance to maintaining this company’s 250-year history of excellence, and most notably its Made in France identity.”
Baccarat is the last remaining asset of parent group Taittinger, which Starwood purchased in 2005. The investment firm has already spun off divisions including fragrance brand Annick Goutal, the Taittinger Champagne house and luxury hotels such as the Crillon in Paris and the Martinez in Cannes.
It posted sales of 148.3 million euros, or $164.1 million, in 2016, down 0.9 percent versus 2015. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization totaled 12.9 million euros, or $14.3 million, up 25.2 percent year-over-year. Dollar rates are calculated at average exchange for the period.
Riccardi, who believes the concept of table ware is outdated, said the company was active in three main areas: luxury living, luxury gifting and collaborations with traditional partners such as cognac makers Rémy Martin and Hennessy, or watchmakers like Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
The license to operate and brand Baccarat Hotels will stay with Starwood Capital’s SH Group, a hotel management company.
Baccarat, which makes around 80 percent of its revenues outside of France, is banking on international expansion to drive growth in coming years, with the United States and Asia its key priorities.
It has 40 directly operated stores and plans to add another 20 in the next five years, in addition to 30 shops-in-shops. It also aims to expand e-commerce, which is currently available in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, to the rest of the world.
“In general, all emerging markets still hold a lot of potential for Baccarat,” Riccardi said.