Potential buyers take a shine to Waterford's cookware

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The Independent Online

The Irish china and glass company Waterford Wedgwood yesterday admitted that a number of potential bidders were interested in buying its All-Clad cookware business. The unit, which sells mostly into the US market, makes up about 12 per cent of Waterford Wedgwood's total sales and is said to be worth something like $200m (£109m).

Sources say "a number" of parties have expressed interest in buying the unit - a business that it bought from the US private equity firm Wasserstein Perella for $110m in 1999.

"The nature of the interest expressed is such that the board will carefully consider the company's best interests," Waterford Wedgwood said yesterday.

While the All-Clad cookware range is sold in the UK through Harrods, it is better known in the US, where it is used by the celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

The sources said the unit had not been put up for sale by the company, but that third parties were keen on it because it seemed the least "core" of its operations.

Should Waterford Wedgwood forge ahead with a sale, it will be left mainly with glass and china interests under its three key brands, Rosenthal, Waterford and Wedgwood. It also owns a linens business called W-C Designs.

The company also announced sales of €241.9m (£167m) for the third quarter to 31 December, flat on the same period last year on a like-for-like basis.

During the key Christmas period, the company said it had managed a "satisfactory" performance "despite industry sales which were concentrated in the last 10 days of December".

Operating margins in the quarter improved to 7.7 per cent, driven largely by cost reductions as well as an investment in outsourcing and technology.

Waterford Wedgwood, whose net debt stood at about €400m at the end of the year, said its international operations had performed well, with sales in Japan up 11 per cent in the quarter and up 6 per cent in the year to date on a like-for-like basis.

Analysts at Davy said they now felt that their full-year forecast of an operating profit of €48.5m was looking "rather ambitious". They reckon the company has made an operating profit of just under €23m in the nine-month period.