Exclusive: Apax seeks Advantage Sales buyer for more than $3 billion , say sources-Reuters

(Reuters) – Private equity firm Apax Partners LLP is exploring a sale of Advantage Sales & Marketing Inc that could value the consumer marketing solutions provider at between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apax is working with Bank of America Merrill Lynch on an auction of ASM, which involves a small number of other private equity firms, the people said this week.

The sources asked not to be identified because the sale process is confidential. Representatives of Apax, ASM and Bank of America Merrill Lynch had no immediate comment.

Founded in 1987, Irvine, California-based ASM provides outsourced sales, marketing and merchandising services to manufacturers, suppliers and producers of consumer packaged goods in the United States.

The industries ASM serves include groceries, drugstores, convenience stores, consumer electronics outlets and sporting goods shops.

Apax acquired ASM from buyout firm J.W. Childs Associates LP and Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s private equity division in 2010 in a deal whose value people familiar with the matter pegged at the time at around $1.8 billion.

ASM’s sale to another buyout firm would come as private equity is increasingly targeting companies that are expected to benefit from a recovery in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Last month, for example, buyout firm Berkshire Partners LLC inked an agreement to acquire Catalina Marketing Corp, which claims to have the world’s largest shopper history database, from Hellman & Friedman LLC for more than $2 billion.

ASM’s closest private equity-owned peer is Acosta Sales & Marketing, a food marketing company that Thomas H. Lee Partners LP acquired in 2011 for more than $2 billion.