PARIS LVMH (LVMH.PA) said on Monday it has acquired 80 percent of Italian luxury cashmere clothing brand Loro Piana for 2 billion euros ($2.57 billion), boosting the French group's presence in high-end handcrafted products popular with Asian buyers.
The deal gives Loro Piana an enterprise value of 2.7 billion euros, or more than 3.8 times the company's expected 2013 sales of 700 million euros.
Loro Piana, which is also an integrated manufacturer of fine yarns, has been enjoying average annual sales growth of 17 percent over the past three years, which analysts said would help make up for slower growth at other LVMH brands such as Louis Vuitton.
"The price is steep but it is a fairly unique business," said Paul Swinand, analyst at market research house Morningstar.
Loro Piana, which makes 30 percent of its sales in Asia, has enjoyed continued strong demand in China even as some other luxury brands such as Gucci (PRTP.PA) and Louis Vuitton have experienced slowdowns.
Earlier this year, it said it expected sales to grow a little over 10 percent this year, after growth of 13.1 percent to 630 million euros ($815 million) in 2012.
Consultancy Bain & Co expects sales in the global luxury goods market to rise 4-5 percent this year, cooling from 5 percent last year at constant exchange rates.
LVMH said it planned to expand the Italian brand's leather goods offering as well as its footprint worldwide. Loro Piana gets 85 percent of its revenue from its 185 directly operated stores and shop-in-shops.
"We think we can increase the footprint of the brand without impairing its exclusivity," LVMH Finance Director Jean-Jacques Guiony told analysts in a conference call about the deal.
LVMH said it would finance the deal with cash and new debt and expected the transaction to close at the end of the year.
Loro Piana's luxury products division makes earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) representing more than 20 percent of its turnover, LVMH said.
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The takeover comes two years after LVMH's purchase of Roman jeweller Bulgari for 3.7 billion euros and more than a decade after it acquired leather goods maker Fendi and fashion label Emilio Pucci.
In an interview with the French daily Figaro, Sergio Loro Piana, who has been running the company with his brother Pier Luigi, said the family only started talking to LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault a month ago.
"As soon as we took the decision to sell my brother and I, we only wanted to talk to Bernard Arnault," Loro Piana told the daily.
LVMH, the world's top luxury group, said the Sergio and Pier Luigi Loro Piana family would retain 20 percent of the company as well as their management positions.
"This should be viewed as a positive, opportunistic deal for LVMH to acquire at a 'reasonable price' a niche, ultra high-end apparel brand with a lot of heritage, a sound management team and some strategic sourcing competencies," said Thomas Chauvet, luxury goods analyst at Citi.
Some analysts said Loro Piana reminded them of French luxury goods maker Hermes (HRMS.PA) in that the company was integrated, very high-end and produced timeless products.
Last month, LVMH received a slap on the wrist from the French markets watchdog LVMH with an 8 million-euro fine for failing to properly disclose its stake-building in rival Hermes before 2010, of which it now owns 22.6 percent.
The Loro Piana acquisition gives LVMH access to the high-quality wool and yarns market for which competition is fierce.
The family business, which started as a wool mill in northern Italy in 1924, is now the largest Western manufacturer of cashmere and baby cashmere, LVMH said.
It also specializes in very rare fabrics, such as the wool of wild vicunas, llama-like animals that live in the Andes mountain range and which it raises. Loro Piana's vicuna coats sell for about 14,000 euros.
The company also uses lotus flower fiber and is a major purchaser of extra-fine Merino wools auctioned in Australia and New Zealand.
One third of its business is the manufacturing of yarns with the balance the production and distribution of luxury clothing made from its fine wools such as capes, bags and vests.
($1 = 0.7773 euros)
(Additional reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Christian Plumb and Phil Berlowitz)