Holland American Trust, the main shareholder of Pearle Europe based in Bermuda, has gradually accumulated over the last 9 months a stake of about 5 percent in GrandVision, buying shares in the open market through various intermediate holdings. HAL put together a package of just over 5 percent, which obliged it under French law to make public its intentions, but then brought its holdings under 5 percent.
Officials of HAL and Pearle Europe decline to comment on the matter, but Daniel Abittan, chairman and CEO of GrandVision, stated yesterday that a takeover bid by Pearle Europe would be regarded as a hostile move, independently of the price. Last November, GrandVision sold its Polish Vision Express stores to Pearle Europe for e10 million, or 70 percent of annual sales.
With Abittan and other members of the board holding only 25-27 percent of its shares, GrandVision is a potential takeover target. Fielmann has shown some interest in GrandVision, too. The French group's dense network of stores in France and the UK could complement well those of Fielmann or Pearle Europe. However, GrandVision's management seems most interested now in raising the group's stock market value, which has risen marginally so far this year. It remained practically flat yesterday at just under e16.90, in spite of the announcement of vastly improved results (see next story).
Pearle Europe has already acquired a strong presence through acquisitions in the Benelux countries, Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal. According to Cole National, which has a 21 percent stake in Pearle Europe, the latter's profit contribution increased by more than 4 times in the 2nd quarter ended Aug. 3 to $1,030,000.
Pearle Europe's better than expected performance in the 1st quarter led the American retail group to adjust its own earnings for the period upwards by $0.6 million. Pearle Europe contributed net income of $0.8 million in the 1st quarter as compared to a $0.1 million loss in the year-ago period. That doesn't include interest income on loans made by Cole to Pearle Europe, which brought in $0.3 million and $0.4 million in the latest two quarters.
Cole National's total revenues grew by 5.7 percent to $288.8 million in the latest quarter, with comparable store increases of 41.1 percent at Target Optical stores, 3.9 percent at Sears Optical, 1.5 percent at company-owned Pearle Vision stores and 1.2 percent at BJ's Optical, but Target Optical continued to lose money. The overall gross margin rose from 66.6 to 67.3 percent. Basic net income rose to $2,691,000 from $1,459,000, but an extraordinary $7.6 million loss related to the retirement of $150 million in subordinated bonds led to a final net loss of $4,943,000 for the quarter.