UK-based Charterhouse Capital Partners is poised to acquire France's Vivarte, a group that includes around 15 clothing and shoe retailers.

In a statement, Vivarte said that its majority shareholder, PAI Partners, is in exclusive negotiations with Charterhouse for the sale of the company whose retail chains include La Halle, Kookaï, Caroll, André and Minelli.

Vivarte did not comment further on the negotiations other than to say that the takeover project will be the subject of consultations with labour unions.

French media reports on Friday claimed that Charterhouse is paying EUR3.5bn (US$4.59bn) for Vivarte, net debt included, for around 75% of its capital. PAI Partners acquired a shareholding of around 55% in Vivarte in April 2004 for EUR 1.5bn, including debt.

The past two years or so have seen a recovery in the company's fortunes under the leadership of Georges Plassat, who is set to hold on to his post of president and CEO following the change of ownership.

Vivarte's turnover increased  from EUR2bn in 2004  to EUR2.3bn  in 2006 (for the 12  months to end-August). Its operating result over the same period improved from EUR220m to EUR 365m.

The company has more than 2,600 sales outlets worldwide of which around 70% are in France. These are located in retail parks as well as on the high street. 

By Stuart Todd.