Coty IPO Set to Draw Investors Despite Blemishes

Source: Bottega Veneta

NEW YORK, United States — After 109 years of selling beauty products, Coty Inc is ready for its close-up, blemishes and all. The maker of Stetson cologne, OPI nail polish and Sally Hansen lip balm, is set to go public Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange, with shares to trade on Thursday.

Demand for the $1 billion initial public offering is expected to be strong, bankers said, with investors eager for a big consumer deal. Coty will not get any money from the IPO.

The IPO will come amid a dearth of large public offerings from U.S. consumer companies. Only five have gone public so far this year out of 75 IPOs across all sectors, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Coty had been growing fast, with sales at the New York-based company rising 21 percent to $4.6 billion between 2008 and 2012.

But in the first three quarters of 2013 revenues were flat, hurt by a lack of skin-care sales, and it has a small presence in fast-growing beauty markets such as Latin America and Asia, compared to larger rivals Avon Products Inc and Estée Lauder Cos Inc.

Coty gets 15.8 percent of its revenue from skincare and beauty products, versus rivals like Estee Lauder, with 43.5 percent. Industrywide, sales are growing faster in that segment than for fragrances. Also, the company gets half of its sales from mass-market products like Playboy cologne, while luxury is the fastest growing area of the beauty sector.

MIXED M&A RECORD

Coty has a mixed merger-and-acquisition record, which worries some investors.

Founded in 1904 by Francois Coty, who sold fragrances to Paris department stores, the company is now the No. 2 worldwide fragrance company after L’Oreal SA, according to Euromonitor. Much of that growth has come through acquisitions.

Last year, Coty tried to buy Avon, a rival twice its size that is in the midst of a turnaround, to grow in emerging markets, but failed.

Bankers said it was unlikely Coty will go after Avon again, but point to the reputation of the company’s majority owners – Joh. A Benckiser Group, the German holding company for the billionaire Reimann family – for aggressive dealmaking.

The group, led by veterans with ties to Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, candy giant Mars and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA , is known for paying high prices for deals, a sign of an undisciplined M&A strategy.

Despite the 2010 acquisition of OPI, largely considered a success, its 2011 purchases of skincare brands philosophy for $1 billion and China’s TJoy for $400 million have been disappointments. Coty took impairment charges for both brands last year.

“It’s definitely a concern if Coty is overpaying for acquisitions and if some of its deals haven’t been successful in the past,” said Brian Frank, portfolio manager at Frank Capital Partners.

‘POWERFUL COMBINATION’

Coty plans to drive growth by expanding outside North America and Europe, which generate three-quarters of total revenue. Last month, it agreed to buy a distributor in Southeast Asia to support sales in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam.

It also formed a joint venture last month with a Brazilian cosmetics distributor in a push to enter the second largest beauty market after the United States.