Pentland Group spends pounds 20m on Italian sportswear manufacturer: UK company in charge after 13-year link with Ellesse

PENTLAND GROUP has dipped into its bulging purse and expanded its wardrobe of sportswear brands by buying Ellesse in Italy for pounds 20m.

The company, which has net cash in excess of pounds 250m, has been linked with Ellesse for 13 years.

In 1981 it became the UK distributor for Ellesse clothing and in 1988 it started sourcing the Italian company's footwear from the Far East.

For its money Pentland gains a small factory in Perugia and rights to the Ellesse trademark outside the US, Canada and Japan.

The American and Canadian rights to Ellesse were bought in 1988 by Reebok, the US sports shoe company and the source of Pentland's cash pile. Reebok, where Pentland invested pounds 40,000 in 1981 and checked out 10 years later for almost pounds 390m gross, sold its Ellesse rights last September to Homer Altice, an American entrepreneur.

Dr Leonardo Servadio, the company's founder, will retain a 10 per cent stake in Ellesse. He will be chairman of the renamed Ellesse International.

Pentland holds the right to buy his stake for a maximum pounds 5m and he could receive another pounds 3m depending on Ellesse's trading over the next four years. In 1992 it made pounds 1.8m before interest charges.

Investors welcomed the deal and Pentland's shares, depressed last year by a costly US trade finance venture, firmed 2p to 104p.

Analysts believe there is scope to improve the distribution and production of Ellesse goods, which mainly comprise ski suits and tennis shirts, shorts and skirts.

Richard Stevens, a director of Pentland, added: 'In some areas there is quite a lot of work to do with Ellesse. They have lost their focus over the last few years . . . the product range is too wide.'

Pentland said it was in no rush to spend the rest of its cash, much of which will earn a 6 per cent return regardless of falls in UK interest rates.

In the six months to June, Pentland earned pounds 9.5m in interest - almost double the amount generated from operations.

Analysts expect Pentland to have made around pounds 20m pre-tax in 1993 after heavy exceptional costs for closing the US trade finance arm.

Pentland's brand stable already includes Speedo, Berghaus, Pony, KangaROOS and Basher Boot.

(Photograph omitted)

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