Leading Australian jeans retailer Just Jeans' has been sold to Australia-based private investment group Catalyst for $107 million following a vote by shareholders at an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday.

The stock market listed Just Jeans, owned by the Kimberley family, is believed to be the first major public Australian company to make the complete transition to private ownership following today's vote at the firm's Melbourne headquarters.

Just Jeans managing director Howard McDonald, who will remain in his position with Catalyst -which is owned by UK-based Prudential Plc - said that the new year had started well and that after the first three months of 2001/02, Just Jeans was ahead of budget and sales for the same period last year.

"In a sales sense we are double digit ahead of last year," he said. "Growth is a very important factor for us going forward. We've got four wonderful brands (Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Peter Alexander and Jacqui E), 526 stores and we can easily see 800 stores."

Mr McDonald added that growth was likely to come through acquisitions but the company had not ruled out organic growth. "It's difficult out there and if companies can't deliver their cashflow for Christmas that will be a very difficult going forward, so there is a lot of nervousness out there," he said.

"I think that will present any number of opportunities...Just Jeans is now at its strongest level for many years."

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