Bulgari fuels talk of bid for Fendi

SPECULATION IS mounting that the Italian luxury goods group Bulgari, whose jewellery is worn by the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones and Lady Helen Taylor, is planning a takeover bid for rival firm Fendi, also Italian and famous for its miniature croissant handbags that are favoured by Naomi Campbell.

Bulgari's half-year sales figures, announced yesterday, showed a healthy rate of growth, with turnover up 22 per cent from last year at lira 365.3bn (pounds 127m). Profits will not be announced until September this year.

Commenting on the results, Bulgari's chief executive officer Francesco Trapani fuelled rumours that his firm was about to make a bid for Fendi by referring to his group's "intense expansion strategy".

The move would add momentum to the wave of consolidation that is sweeping the fashion industry. Earlier this month, flamboyant designer Jean Paul Gaultier sold 35 per cent of his company to fashion chain Hermes. The sale raised pounds 15m. And in June, designer chain Gucci sold a 42 per cent stake to Pinault-Printemps-Redoubt, the French retailing group in defensive measure to stave off a takeover bid from LVMH, its luxury goods rival.

If Bulgari does press ahead with a bid for Fendi, it could face some stiff opposition. Prada, Gucci and Texas Pacific are all said to have expressed an interest in the purchase. US-based Texas Pacific, the venture capitalists behind Punch's successful bid for Allied Domecq's pubs, reportedly approached Fendi in June with an offer of pounds 270m.

So far, Bulgari's expansion has mostly been organic. This year, the company has opened 10 new stores in places such as Mexico City, Brussels, Nassau and Manila.