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Moulin International, the Hong Kong eyewear group, yesterday came good on its pledge to make acquisitions in North America when it teamed up with a US private equity group to bid $450m for Eye Care Centers of America.
The deal comes only four months after Moulin lost a bid battle for Cole National, another US eyewear group, to Italy’s Luxottica.
At the time, Cary Ma, Moulin’s chief executive, said that Luxottica’s takeover of Cole would prompt consolidation in the industry and that Moulin would continue trying to expand its presence in North America.
Eye Care Centers is the second largest retail optical chain in the US, with 378 stores in 33 states. It is owned by Thomas H Lee Partners, the large Boston-based buy-out group that made an original investment of $109m in the company in 1998 and has more than doubled its money with yesterday’s deal.
Joining Moulin in agreeing to buy Eye Care Centers is Golden Gate Capital, a San Francisco-based buy-out group with about $2.5bn in capital under management.
Unions between private equity buyers and so-called strategic buyers are becoming increasingly common as buy-out firms attempt to find as many ways as possible to put their money to work as possible.
Eye Care Centers is seen as being one of the few companies in the industry able to compete on price with bix-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and on service with specialty retailers.
Its brands include EyeMasters, Visionworks, Hour Eyes, and Stein Optical. Merrill Lynch and Bank of America advised Eye Care Centers.
JPMorgan advised Moulin and financed the deal.