LVMH raises Hermes stake above 20 percent

PARIS Tue Dec 21, 2010 6:55pm GMT

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PARIS (Reuters) - LVMH (LVMH.PA), the world's biggest luxury goods group, has raised its stake to above 20 percent in handbag maker Hermes (HRMS.PA), via off- and on-market transactions, the French markets regulator AMF said on Tuesday.

LVMH reiterated it did not wish to seek control of Hermes but its purchase comes fresh on the heels of a defensive move to gather the many Hermes family shareholders' stakes into a controlling holding company, a measure which has yet to be approved by the AMF.

In October LVMH took the luxury world by surprise with the announcement that it owned 17.1 percent of Hermes, a participation described as hostile by Hermes shareholders and executives.

The AMF said on Tuesday LVMH may buy more Hermes shares.

Separately, the regulator is investigating LVMH's surreptitious purchase of Hermes shares since 2008, some through the use of derivative instruments known as equity swaps, which allowed the group to avoid having to declare them.

LVMH said in a curt statement on Tuesday it now owned 21,338,675 Hermes shares, a stake of 20.21 percent.

Hermes declined to comment on Tuesday.

Hermes family shareholders, which number around 60 and together hold about 73.4 percent of the company, have called for Bernard Arnault, the controlling shareholder and chief executive of LVMH, to withdraw from Hermes's capital.

But some market traders had recently been speculating that more Hermes shares could be sold in the open market and picked up by LVMH after indexes dropped the stock due to the fall in the market liquidity of Hermes shares.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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