Pump Up the Volume: Tommy Shares Leap on Sale Frenzy

Shares of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. surged 10.92 percent, or $1.76, to close at $17.87 on the NYSE Thursday, on news the company is for sale.

An investment banker who specializes in the apparel sector said Thursday that he didn't believe Claiborne would bite, noting that "past acquisitions by Liz have been with smaller companies that have greater potential to grow organically."

Last week, Hilfiger settled a U.S. Attorney's office probe involving one of its subsidiaries over commission policies. The company agreed to pay $18.1 million to settle the tax probe, and the U.S. Attorney agreed not to prosecute Hilfiger or its subsidiary. The company last week also posted fiscal year 2006's first-quarter results, in which the firm said revenues for the period ended June 30 were $319 million versus $329 million a year ago.

During Hilfiger's conference call last Thursday regarding first-quarter earnings, David Dyer, chief executive officer and president, said U.S. wholesale revenue was $115 million compared with $163 million for the same year-ago quarter. He noted that lower volumes across all businesses resulted primarily from reductions in the number of doors and decreased orders on a comparable-door basis by the company's major customers. The men's sportswear business continued to reflect favorable response to key items in knits, wovens and denims, and the misses' division benefitted from strong customer response to sweaters, skirts and Ithaca polos.

As for the company's European operations, Dyer boasted: "Yes, it is just a terrific business ... Our two biggest countries are Germany and Spain. Business there continues to be very, very strong. In Spain, it is perhaps the only place that we have a major department store in Europe. Mostly our European distribution is through 3,500 specialty store doors."

The ceo added that, in Germany, the company has done well in wholesale and in its company-owned specialty stores. "We have plans to continue to roll out specialty stores in Germany in the future."

Dyer also said there are growth opportunities in Italy, where Hilfiger bought its business back from a distributor. "One of the things that we know from what we have seen comparing ourselves to Ralph Lauren, while we are stronger in many countries, Italy is one that we are not. We're probably about a third of their business in Italy, and we think that it gives us a feeling that there's a great growth opportunity," said Dyer.

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