QXL.COM, AN ARNAULT HOLDING, BUYING SCANDINAVIA AUCTIONEER

Byline: James Fallon / Sarah Raper

LONDON — LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton chairman Bernard Arnault keeps snapping up online auctioneers to go with his Phillips auction house in London, and an additional Web-related acquisition may be in place by midweek.
QXL.com PLC, the online auction site partially owned by Arnault’s Europ@web, Monday said it plans to acquire the Scandinavian online auction service Bidlet AB in a share-to-share exchange worth $548.3 million. It is QXL’s second purchase of a Scandinavian auction site in the last three months and makes the region one of QXL’s largest single markets.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Liberty Surf share prices shot up 9.7 percent Monday on news that the free-access provider, which is owned jointly by Europ@web and U.K. retailer Kingfisher PLC, would make some sort of announcement on Wednesday. Shares closed at $63.80 Monday at the Paris Bourse.
In Paris, the CAC40 index rose 1.36 percent to close at 6,450.85.
Liberty Surf went public on March 16 with an introductory share price of $39.80. Dollar amounts have been converted at current exchange.
Market watchers speculated that Liberty Surf would announce a new acquisition in its bid to become the leading European access provider. A spokeswoman said Monday that she was unaware of any forthcoming announcements.
Europ@web, Arnault’s $500 million Internet investment fund, was created by Arnault last July as part of Groupe Arnault, the Arnault family’s holding company.
Bidlet is a leading operator of business-to-consumer auction sites in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland with more than 170,000 registered users. It also operates a consumer-to-consumer auction site in Sweden that had more than 257,000 unique visitors in January alone.
Bidlet had a net loss of $6 million on consolidated net revenues of $3.9 million in the year ending Dec. 31, 1999. Its net assets at that date totaled $3.9 million.
QXL has more than 500,000 registered users in nine European countries. In the three months ending Dec. 31, 1999, the site had gross auction value of $8.2 million and sales of $2.5 million.
QXL has entered into a conditional agreement to acquire about 50.4 percent of Bidlet from Bidlet’s controlling shareholders. It will make a public tender offer in Sweden to acquire the remaining shares and will issue new shares in the ratio of 9.25 new QXL shares for each Bidlet share. Following completion of the deal — which is expected in late spring or early summer — Bidlet’s shareholders will own 14.8 percent of the enlarged group.
“This is a significant step for QXL, which further solidifies our European presence and creates the leading Scandinavian online auction service,” Jim Rose, QXL’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Scandinavia is technologically ahead of the rest of Europe in a number of areas, such as mobile telecommunications, and this acquisition will enable QXL to capitalize on this expertise across our other European operations.”
Europe@web invested $30 million for an undisclosed stake in QXL in July 1999. QXL last December acquired DinSide Auksjon, Norway’s largest online auctioneer, for $21.8 million. The acquisition was paid for through the issue of 1.3 million new QXL shares.

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