Cerberus nears deal to buy 80 percent of Avon North America unit: WSJ

(Reuters) — Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP is close to an agreement to buy 80 percent of Avon Products Inc‘s North American business for $170 million, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

New York-based Cerberus will also invest $435 million for a nearly 17 percent stake in the parent company, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

A deal could be announced as soon as Thursday, though it could fall apart at the last minute, the report said, citing the people.

As part of the deal, Cerberus will designate a new chairman and also take three seats on Avon’s board along with naming two new independent directors, the Journal said.

The potential deal comes at a time when investors led by Barington Capital have proposed a restructuring of Avon, saying the cosmetics maker is “significantly undervalued” and warning against the sale of its North American arm to Cerberus Capital Management.

Earlier this month, the Barington-led group, which collectively owns more than 3 percent of the company, laid out its plans in an open letter sent to Avon Chairman Douglas Conant.

Representatives of Avon, Barington and Cerberus were not immediately available for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

Avon, which was valued at nearly $1.8 billion as of Wednesday’s close, has been struggling to reverse a decline in sales for nearly four years, as it loses representatives – the so-called “Avon Ladies” – in the United States and grapples with weak demand in Brazil.

Earlier this year, Avon was the target of a bogus takeover bid made by a firm calling itself PTG Capital Partners.

The firm, incorporated in a remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean, offered on May 14 to buy Avon for $18.75 per share, nearly three times the company’s value at that time.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has since charged a Bulgarian man with being the architect behind the hoax.