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Lululemon could be a takeover target, analysts suggest

A woman carries a shopping bag with the Lululemon Athletica Inc. logo. The Vancouver-based retailer may be in play

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

Yoga wear retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc., which grappled last year with a massive pants recall and image problems, could be a takeover target according to industry speculation.

Analysts suggest that VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C., which owns more than 30 brands such as North Face and 7 for all Mankind, could be a prime suitor of Vancouver-based Lululemon.

If Lululemon were in play, likely strategic buyers would include VF or sporting wear titan Adidas AG, Camilo Lyon, managing director of equity research at Canaccord Genuity in New York, said in a report released Monday.

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Even so, industry sources familiar with Lululemon said it is not for sale nor involved in talks to divest the company.

"Any time the Lululemon stock goes down, all of a sudden all the sharks go out and want to go hunting," said one source.

Lululemon shares sank in 2013 after the retailer struggled with a crisis of having to pull its signature black yoga pants because they were too sheer, raising questions about the premium retailer's high-quality image. It replaced its chief executive officer in January with Laurent Potdevin, a global footwear and snowboard specialist, and is focusing on expanding overseas and into new categories as it tries to woo back customers.

VF spokesman Lance Allega said the company doesn't comment "on specific brands." A Lululemon spokeswoman said it doesn't comment on speculation.

Industry observers say VF would be a good fit for Lululemon because the U.S. company has a well-oiled supply chain and could help the Canadian-based chain bolster its distribution network.

VF's brands include Lucy, which is an upscale U.S. yoga wear rival to Lululemon, as well as such labels as Wrangler jeans and Vans shoes.

Like a "private equity company on steroids," VF is savvy at "identifying, acquiring and building lifestyle brands," ISI Group analyst Omar Saad in New York said in a note last month.

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He said he expects the company to continue adding one or two meaningful acquisitions about every other year, and Lululemon could be among them.

Still, Mr. Lyon of Canaccord said in an interview Monday he doesn't think a takeover of Lululemon is imminent despite the rumours. "VF is always a suitor for a lot of retailers or vendors," he said. "They're always on the acquisition prowl. But it doesn't mean they're going to act."

He said Adidas is another potential buyer because it already has significant retail operations, more so than rival Nike Inc., which is mainly a wholesaler although it is improving its retail business.

He said Columbia Sportswear Co.'s recent $190-million (U.S.) acquisition of yoga wear purveyor PrAna Living LLC for 13 times EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) represents a "valuation floor" for companies in the athletic active-wear space.

Luluelemon is trading at just under 13 times EBITDA, which is a depressed 2014 estimate, he said. When Lululemon stabilizes its business and bolsters its critical same-store sales, "its multiple should re-rate higher," he said.

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