UPDATE 1-Lazard, Messier mandated to sell Maisons du Monde chain
* Furniture chain seen fetching EV of 700 mln euros-sources
* Latest sign of flurry of French LBO activity
* Process seen starting late February
PARIS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Investment banks Lazard and Messier Maris have been mandated to sell Maisons du Monde, a furniture store chain owned by private equity firms Apax and LBO France, sources familiar with the deal said on Wednesday.
Lazard and Messier Maris, the boutique bank controlled by former Vivendi Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier, were chosen last week to run the process, expected to kick off later this month, the sources said.
The sources said a deal could give Maisons du Monde, which was valued at 435 million euros when LBO France and Apax acquired control in 2008, an enterprise value of at least 700 million euros ($958.72 million).
"They want to get the deal done before June," said one source. "It looks like the year-end numbers came out decently, so they want to get it off to the market before the tide turns."
LBO France and Apax, which each own 35 percent stakes in the furniture chain, each declined to comment. Lazard and Messier, also declined to comment.
Jean-Marie Messier and his partner Erik Maris are both former Lazard bankers; Messier is a prolific dealmaker best known for building Vivendi into a telecoms and media empire before its spectacular crash in 2002.
Potential strategic bidders include South African furniture retailer Steinhoff International, which recently bought French retailer Conforama, two sources said. Steinhoff declined to comment.
But Xavier Marie, the chain's founder and CEO, might be reluctant to relinquish management control to a strategic bidder, one source said, perhaps giving private equity bidders the upper hand.
Maisons du Monde has annual sales of about 500 million euros and earnings before interest, debt, taxes and amortisation (EBITDA) in the range of 75 to 80 million, one source said.
The official start to the search for buyers for Maisons du Monde is the latest sign of a flurry of activity in France's generally moribund private equity deals market.
Last week Reuters reported that large private equity firms including KKR and Carlyle had submitted non-binding bids for ready-to-wear brands Sandro and Maje.
French catering company Elior, controlled by private equity firm Charterhouse Capital Partners, is also up for sale.