JUDITH JACK SAID TO BE ON THE BLOCK, JONES APPAREL IN PURSUIT

Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — Bridge jewelry and accessories firm Judith Jack is said to be in play, and could fall within the sights of acquisition-hungry Jones Apparel Group.
On the heels of its purchase last week of McNaughton Apparel Group for $572 million, including debt, sources say Jones is closing in on a deal to acquire the New York-based firm.
If Jones were to complete an acquisition, it is likely that Judith Jack, with annual sales estimated to be in the range of $30 million to $50 million, would be placed under the umbrella of another Jones division, the costume jewelry unit of Victoria & Co. Michael Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Judith Jack, would continue to run the firm, possibly reporting to Patricia Stensrud, vice chairman of Victoria.
Judith Jack, known for its marcasite-based jewelry and watches, also manufactures handbags. The firm has a broad range of distribution channels, including department and specialty stores as well as fine jewelers and gift shops. The Victoria brands, which are exclusively costume jewelry, market their various licensed lines — including Givenchy, Nine West and Tommy Hilfiger — primarily to department stores. By contrast, the McNaughton acquisition served to broaden Jones’ distribution to more moderate retailers, such as Kohl’s.
If there was any doubt that Jones’s reputation as a consolidator would continue into the new century, the McNaughton purchase laid it to rest. Just a week before the deal was announced, Jones registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to offer $450 million in mixed securities for a number of corporate purchases, including acquisitions.
However, if a marriage between Jones and Judith Jack were to be consummated, it would represent an acceleration of merger activity by the Bristol, Pa.-based apparel giant, which last year enjoyed revenues of $4.14 billion and net income of $301.9 million. It acquired Sun Apparel in October 1998, Nine West in June 1999 and Victoria last June but, sources say, might be making large as well as small acquisitions at a more rapid rate in the months to come.
Jones stock closed Wednesday at $37.34, up 93 cents, in New York Stock Exchange trading. That’s less than $4 off its 52-week high of $41.09 and well above the corresponding low of $21.25.

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