Luxottica officially denied early last week a new spate of rumors in the Italian press that it was negotiating the acquisition of De Rigo or GrandVision. A new round of rumors then began, indicating that the world's largest eyewear company was discussing a $400 million acquisition in Northern Europe, triggering denials from SpecSavers and expressions of disbelief from officials of Boots Opticians and Pearle Europe.

Finally, a few days ago, an Italian daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, published a rare interview with Leonardo Del Vecchio, chairman of Luxottica, stating that the group was not interested in any retail chains in Europe, where it already has relatively high market shares at the wholesale level. He said he was more interested in a new retail acquisition in the USA, or possibly in Australia.

Company officials indicate that Del Vecchio's preferences actually go for the USA, where LensCrafters has a 12 percent market share and Sunglass Hut a share of about 3 percent. According to industry observers, he may be eyeing the country's third-largest specialist optical chain, Eye Care Centers of America, which is privately owned.

As for Boots Opticians, officials of the British group have been trying recently to quench rumors about a possible divestiture of the chain by Boots plc. According to an English press report, McKinsey's consultancy has recommended in a report commissioned by Boots' management that it should close parts of its Wellbeing Services, including its 386 Boots Opticians stores, to concentrate on dentistry. In the latest financial year, in March of 2002, the company's Wellbeing Services made a loss of £33 million (e49m-$53m) on sales of £231 million (e343m-$368m).

Boots officials would not comment on all aspects of the report except to say that a divestiture of Boots Opticians would be complicated by the fact that about half of the group's optical stores are actually departments within Boots' drugstores. Boots said in a statement that it plans to discontinue some health services such as osteopathy, physiotherapy, homeopathy or reflexology. It also will change the status of the dentists in its dental care 56 practices to self-employed professionals, resulting in annual savings of about £4 million (e6m-$6m).