Lagardere enters race for Benetton’s World Duty Free – sources

SHAFAQNA – France‘s Lagardère (LAGA.PA) has joined the race to acquire a majority of Italy’s airport retailer World Duty Free (WDF.MI), which belongs to the Benetton family, sources familiar with the situation said.

The French media group, which operates stores in almost 160 airports via its Lagardère Services’ unit, LS Travel Retail, is in talks with several private equity firms to help it fund a deal worth over $1.2 billion (798 million pounds), said a third source.

The Benetton family, who owns 50.1 percent of WDF via its holding company Edizione, is willing to give up control and favour a merger that would help World Duty Free cope with the rising costs of airport concessions and also give the retailer more bargaining power in dealing with suppliers.

Reuters reported in December that the Benettons would be happy to retain a 15-20 percent stake in a well-managed, larger group.

Lagardere is working with Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) on the deal, said two sources who could not be named because the matter is confidential.

Representatives from Lagardère were not immediately available for comment while a spokesman for Societe Generale declined to comment.

Edizione said in a statement on Thursday it had not yet received any concrete offer for its Italian travel retailer subsidiary while acknowledging that numerous requests for information from investment banks had been submitted.

World Duty Free, which ranks as the world’s second-largest travel retailer, would give Lagardere’s LS Travel Retail access to shops in some of Europe’s busiest airports including Heathrow and Gatwick in Britain.

Lagardère would still need to fend off Swiss travel retailer Dufry, which is also seen as a strong contender for World Duty Free after it snapped up rival Nuance for 1.55 billion Swiss francs (1.12 billion pounds) in June, said two of the sources.

A spokesman at Dufry declined to comment.

World Duty Free expects sales of between 2.38 billion and 2.43 billion euros (1.79-1.83 billion pounds) this year, up around 15 percent from 2013. It has a market capitalisation of $2.5 billion.

World Duty Free gets 60 percent of its core profits from its British business, while at its Spanish business the rents it pays for airport shops are set to rise significantly this year

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