By the end of July, Safilo should become the sole property of Vittorio Tabacchi and his family, including his two children Samantha and Massimiliano, and the world's second-largest eyewear firm will not longer be trading publicly. Consob, the Italian stock exchange watchdog authority, in fact forced the trio to launch a bid for all the shares that they don't own yet following the formal registration last May 16 of the new equity structure of Fimit, the Tabacchi family's holding company which owns 59.9 percent of Safilo, and of a new shareholders' pact.

This obligation didn't exist before, as none of the individual members of Vittorio Tabacchi's family had more than 30 percent of the equity, even though together they had accumulated together about two-thirds of the shares, supposedly in order to prevent Vittorio's brothers, Giuliano and Dino, from selling to Luxottica or to Gucci. The new element is Fimit's new shareholders' pact, which replaces an older pact between Vittorio, Giuliano and Dino. That pact became obsolete after Giuliano sold all his shares to Vittorio and other members of his family, and Dino transferred to them some of his own.

The new documents registered with Consob don't mention Dino or Vittorio's wife Tatiana, who probably still own 17 and 13 percent of Fimit, respectively. They state that Vittorio and his two children now own together 69.6 percent of Fimit, and that they control Safilo de facto with a joint direct and indirect shareholding of about 70 percent.

The new tender offer concerns the remaining 30 percent stake in Safilo, most of which is floating on the Milan stock exchange. The price has been set at 12.50 euros a share, involving an additional expenditure of 384.3 million euros for Vittorio Tabacchi and his immediate family, but he has already told us that the banks were ready to finance it. The offer price represents premiums of 7.4 percent over the average price in the last month, 17.4 percent over its quotation for the last 6 months, and 22.9 percent over the last 12 months. The Safilo share has done extremely well lately, gaining up to 30 percent in a half a year, while the main index of the Milan Bourse lost up to 27 percent.

Technically, the tender offer will be launched in one of the first 10 days of July by Programma 2002, a company entirely owned by Vittorio Tabacchi, with the assistance of Mediobanca, which was last listed as owning 5.082 percent of Safilo. The offer is conditional on obtaining at least 90-98 percent of all the shares, with the possibility of redeeming the balance at certain conditions. Details will be published at a later stage.

One of the declared goals of the Tabacchi family's new shareholders' pact is to control future disposals or acquisitions of equity interests. Anything will thus be possible after Safilo's privatisation. Vittorio Tabacchi will probably decide to get back some of his total investment of e660 million in Safilo since one year ago by reselling a minority stake to Gucci, whose house brand represents about 20 percent of Safilo's sales. It will represent more with the likely addition of the Yves Saint Laurent license.