Parker Pen purchase is referred to MMC

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The Independent Online
A MONOPOLIES inquiry has been launched in Britain over the proposed pounds 285m acquisition of Parker Pen by Gillette, the US consumer products giant, on competition grounds.

The move delivers a new blow to Parker's years of searching for a new owner. The company twice tried to float on the stock market, but was forced to withdraw the plans because of the October 1987 crash and a market dip a year later.

In 1988 it was involved in takeover talks with Pentland, the sports shoe company, but a pounds 180m deal ran into problems.

In March it was publicly put up for sale by its present owners, a group of institutional investors and its management, leading to the deal with Gillette.

However, the aquisition was referred by the Department of Trade and Industry for an investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission as it would give Gillette a dominant position in Britain's refillable writing instruments and refills market.

The buyer, best known for its shaving products, already owns Paper Mate and Watermans brands. Following Parker's purchase it will hold well over half of the UK refillable pens market.

DTI said the monopolies reference 'did not pre-judge the question of whether or not the proposed merger would be against the public interest'.

According to Market Assessment, a market research company, Parker has a 35 per cent share of the UK refillable pens market with another 30 per cent controlled by Paper Mate.

Sheaffer speaks for another 6 per cent and the balance, including Watermans, is held by others.

Both Gillette and Parker said yesterday that they are confident that the deal will be cleared. The MMC is to report its findings by 13 January 1993.

It is understood that some UK retailers have complained to the Office of Fair Trading that the deal will give Gillette a powerful grip on the British market and could hinder competition.

Whereas Paper Mate's products are pitched at the bottom of the price range of refillable pens, most of Parker's pens sell for between pounds 2.50 and pounds 30. Watermans specialises at the luxury end of the sector, competing against brands such as Cross, Elysee and Mont Blanc.

Parker, founded by a Wisconsin school teacher in 1888, was bought out by its management for pounds 35m six years ago.

The managers, who own 31 per cent of the company's equity, invested a total pounds 300,000 in the buyout and have since seen the value of its shareholding grow to almost pounds 90m.

The company's institutional backers include Schroder Ventures, which also holds 31 per cent. The Parker family interests account for another 16 per cent.