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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Tiffany & Co to sue after LVMH ends takeover deal

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Luxury goods giant LVMH is ending its takeover deal of luxury jewellery retailer Tiffany & Co, saying the French government had requested a delay to the agreement due to the threat of proposed US tariffs on French goods.

The Paris-based conglomerate said that both the French government and Tiffany had requested that the closing of the deal be postponed. The French government, it said, wanted to assess the impact of the possible US tariffs on French goods.

As a result, LVMH said, the 14.5 billion US dollar (£11.2 billion) deal that was scheduled to close on November 24 will be cancelled.

Tiffany has said it will sue to ensure the merger goes ahead

Tiffany replied that it is suing to enforce the merger agreement, which was signed in November 2019. The New York company said LVMH’s argument has no basis in French law. Tiffany also said that LVMH has not even attempted to seek antitrust approval from three jurisdictions.

Tiffany shares slid 9% in pre-market trading in New York. Those in LVMH, which owns 75 brands including Christian Dior, Fendi, Givenchy and Tag Heuer, were stable.

The deal’s value came under strain during the coronavirus pandemic, which caused retail sales to plunge around the world. Tiffany’s share price has been trading around 125 dollars (£96) a share for weeks – below the 135 dollars (£104) per share price that LVMH had agreed to pay last autumn, before the pandemic.

Back then, industry experts had said the deal made sense. Tiffany, known for its delicate jewellery, distinctive blue boxes and an Audrey Hepburn movie, had been trying to transform its brand to appeal to younger and more digital shoppers, and could have used an owner with deep pockets to help expand its business.

LVMH, led by billionaire Bernard Arnault, thought the deal would strengthen its position in high-end jewellery and in the US market. LVMH was also making a bet on China’s economy, where Tiffany had been expanding its presence.

The pandemic has thrown all those assumptions and plans in doubt, and the question of tariffs between the US and Europe appears to have further complicated the situation.

Last year France sought to impose a tax on global tech giants including Google, Amazon and Facebook. The French tech tax is aimed at “establishing tax justice”. France wants digital companies to pay their fair share of taxes in countries where they make money instead of using tax havens, and is pushing for an international agreement on the issue.

In response to the tech tax, the US threatened to slap 100% tariffs on 2.4 billion dollars (£1.8 billion) of French products.

The two sides are at a tense truce as France has said it would delay collection of the digital tax until December, parking the issue until after the next US presidential election where Donald Trump hopes to secure another four-year term.

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