Puma bids farewell to Regency saviour

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Puma, the German sporting goods maker favoured for its retro styles, yesterday waved goodbye to the shareholder that helped to rescue its fortunes seven years ago.

Monarchy Enterprises, the US media group that owns film producer Regency Entertainment, offloaded its 42 per cent stake in Puma for €577m (£414.2m) because it wanted to "diversify" its holdings, industry sources said.

Jochen Zeitz, Puma's chief executive, said Regency, which is behind films such as Pretty Woman and JFK, would continue to support Puma by placing the company's products in its films. "The current co-operation is contractually laid down for five years," Puma said. Meg Ryan wore Puma trainers in Regency's City of Angels.

The auction, handled by Goldman Sachs, saw a total of 6.7 million shares snapped up for €86 per share - a 5 per cent discount to the level the stock opened at yesterday. The offer was "many times oversubscribed", sources said.

Analysts said the close relationship between Puma and Monarchy had been crucial in the German company's reinvention as a retro style icon. High street shoppers have hungered after the latest Puma styles after seeing them on the big screen. Its Mostro, has been an instant success since hitting UK shops in the spring.

Puma's shares have increased about four-fold since Monarchy first started investing in the company in 1996. Although the group is small compared with the likes of Nike and Adidas - annual sales are €900m against €10bn at Nike - it is growing quickly. Sales tripled between 1998 and 2000. For this year, Mr Zeitz has promised to increase profit by another 50 per cent for the third year in a row and grow group sales by 20 per cent.

Although arch-rivals today, Puma and Adidas have a shared past. Both were once part of the same company, Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik. When the founder died in 1948, his business was divided between his two sons, Rudolf and "Adi" Dassler, who founded Puma and Adidas respectively. Both are headquartered in the Bavaria.

Puma sponsors the Italian national football team and Wimbledon champion Serena Williams.

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