| HONG KONG
HONG KONG A consortium led by private equity firms Hillhouse Capital Group and CDH Investments offered on Friday to buy Belle International Holdings Ltd (1880.HK) in a deal valuing the entire Hong Kong-listed shoe retailer at about $6.8 billion.
The move follows a similar transaction in January, when e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) led a $2.6 billion bid to privatize department store operator Intime Retail Group Co Ltd 1833.HK, underscoring the difficulties traditional retailers are facing from competition with online rivals.
Belle, which distributes several sportswear brands including Nike (NKE.N), Adidas (ADSGn.DE), Puma (PUMG.DE) and Converse, said in a securities filing it has experienced "unprecedented challenges," particularly from e-commerce and shopping malls that compete with its main sales channels in department stores.
"A fundamental transformation is necessary in order for the company to compete effectively and solidify its long-term leadership in the Chinese ladies footwear market," CEO Sheng Baijiao said in the filing.
Hillhouse and CDH joined with Yu Wu and Sheng Fang, directors at Belle, to offer HK$6.30 per share in the company. The price is equivalent to a premium of 20 percent from Belle's closing price before the trading halt and values the company at HK$53.1 billion ($6.8 billion).
Hillhouse, which has invested in major Chinese internet companies including Baidu Inc (BIDU.O), Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK) and ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, will end up owning 56.8 percent of Belle after the deal is completed, with CDH taking a 12.1 percent stake, according to the filing.
A group of Belle's management, including Yu and Sheng, will own the remainder 31.1 percent of the company.
Bank of America advised the buying consortium and will extend HK$28 billion ($3.60 billion) in acquisition financing to the group to help fund the share purchase.
Chief Executive Sheng and Belle's chairman Tang Yiu have accepted the offer for their combined 25.8 percent stake.
Sheng said the transformation can be more effectively implemented if the company is privatized and free from "short-term distractions arising from the public equities" as it also involves risks.
Trading of Belle's shares has been halted since April 18 at the company's request and will resume on Tuesday, after a public holiday in Hong Kong.
Shares of Belle, which has a market value of $5.7 billion, gained nearly 21 percent so far this year, reversing a 25 percent slide in 2016.
China's top footwear retailer, which has over 20,000 mainland outlets, had warned in March that it expected to see a 15-25 percent fall in profit when it reports full-year earnings in May as shifting consumer style preferences put pressure on its shoe business.
Belle also said adjustments to its share award scheme as part of an incentive program to management had led to a significant increase in expenses.
(Reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Nick Macfie/Keith Weir)