Puma Owner Kering Said to Have Explored Sports Firm Sale

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Puma SE
Puma, which has a market valuation of about 2.5 billion euros ($3.1 billion) based on the remaining traded shares, is revamping athletic shoes and stepping up marketing as it seeks to reorient the company’s positioning around performance gear. Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

The owner of Puma SE has explored a sale of the German sportswear maker as efforts to revive the brand drag into a fifth year, according to people familiar with the matter.

Kering SA, which also owns Gucci, contacted potential buyers earlier this year to gauge interest, said the people, who asked not to be identified because talks are private. Sovereign-wealth funds from the Middle East such as Qatar as well as Asian investors were approached, they said.

The discussions have yet to lead to any sort of takeover proposal and it remains unclear whether the Paris-based company will still pursue a sale of the brand, the people said. Representatives for Kering, Puma and Qatar declined to comment.

Kering owns about 86 percent of Puma, having acquired control of the sporting-goods maker in 2007. Puma, which has a market valuation of about 2.5 billion euros ($3.1 billion) based on the remaining traded shares, is revamping athletic shoes and stepping up marketing as it seeks to reorient the company’s positioning around performance gear.

Puma shares fell 0.4 percent to 163.45 euros as of 9:44 a.m. in Frankfurt, erasing an initial 3.3 percent gain as stock markets declined across Europe.

Kering rose 0.1 percent to 152.05 euros in Paris. The stock has fallen 4.3 percent since the French company said last week that the top two executives at the Gucci luxury-goods brand are stepping down.

‘Forever Faster’

The search for a buyer of Puma comes in the same year that Kering Chairman Francois-Henri Pinault said he was convinced the company should have a sports and lifestyle division. The unit won’t be expanded until Puma is revived, he said in April.

In light of those comments, “it’s a bit surprising” that Kering has been weighing interest in the sporting-goods maker, said Bassel Choughari, an analyst at Berenberg in London. “That said, if they were to dispose of Puma it’s clearly going to be taken very positively by the market.”

Mario Ortelli, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, is skeptical about Kering owning a maker of sporting products, which have much lower margins than luxury goods. Competitors such as Adidas AG and Nike Inc. are much bigger than Puma, meaning they can spend more on marketing and developing their products, he has said.

Puma, known for its leaping cat logo, this fall unveiled its “Forever Faster” ad campaign, featuring athletes such as sprinter Usain Bolt and soccer player Mario Balotelli, helping boost footwear sales for the first time in seven quarters.

The brand’s ad budget and sponsorship deals, including with English Premier League soccer team Arsenal, are cutting into profit, which in 2014 may be less than half what it was a decade ago, according to analyst estimates.

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