Investcorp eyeing Italy luxury brands

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Investcorp, one of the Middle East's largest private equity firms, is on the lookout for Italian luxury and retail brands that want to expand internationally.

"We have spent a lot of time talking to the owners of some very well-known Italian brands and are always on the lookout for interesting brands with the potential to internationalise," Hazem Ben-Gacem, head of corporate investments, Europe, said.

Ben-Gacem also told Reuters he was not too concerned about next month's election in Italy.

"Italy has always had political risks. What we would like, however, is a stable environment where investors and businesses have clarity and confidence in the government's intention."

The Bahrain-based firm, which has stakes in French group PPR's Gucci unit and US group Tiffany & Co, had US$11.5bn in assets under management as of end-June.

Italian luxury brands such as Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Missoni, and Ermenegildo Zegna have been reluctant to sell and are still controlled by their founding families.

The need to expand internationally to counter the downturn in home markets has prompted firms such as Prada and Versace and to seek outside investors.

The strong performance of luxury brands has made them a target for cash-rich buyers seeking recognition as well as returns.

Economic uncertainty weighed on purchases of European brands last year. The number of acquisitions of western European brands by emerging market investors slowed 5 percent to 326 in 2012, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"I know that the common perception is doom and disappointment," Ben-Gacem said. "Europe is a very complicated beast. But it is one where fortunes do change and we conduct our business in a logical and structural manner."

Ben-Gacem said Investcorp would be more active in the region as the economy recovered and would continue to invest on a long-term basis.

In November, it bought Danish luxury retailer Georg Jensen for US$140m from Axcel Capital Partners.

In Italy, the company invested in Gucci in the 1990s and in the Riva yachting brand, part of Ferretti, in 1985.

It currently co-owns Italian firm N&W Global Vending, maker of snack vending machines, which it bought in 2008.

Investcorp said this month it would announce a new deal in early February, adding it would be an international company.

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