Golden Gate Capital in one-on-one talks to buy Ann Taylor: Reuters

(Reuters) – Private equity firm Golden Gate Capital is in advanced one-on-one negotiations to acquire Ann Inc (ANN.N), in a deal that could value the parent of women’s retailer Ann Taylor at around $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deal for the New York-based company could come together as early as next week should the negotiations prove successful, the people said on Wednesday. There is no certainty that a deal will be reached, the people cautioned.

Ann would consider an offer in the low $40-per-share-range, the people said, declining to reveal how much Golden Gate was offering. Shares of Ann ended trading in New York on Wednesday at $37.36. Following the Reuters story, Ann shares jumped 12 percent to $41.99 in after-hours trading.

Bain Capital LLC was also vying for the company, but pulled out of the process in the last few weeks, according to the sources. A Bain spokeswoman declined to comment.

The people asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential. Representatives for Ann and Golden Gate declined to comment.

Best known for its women’s suits and officewear, Ann has been hit hard by increased competition, heavy in-store promotions and a pullback in consumer spending. The company has also faced pressure from two shareholders, hedge funds Engine Capital LP and Red Alder LLC, to consider selling itself.

Ann hired investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) last summer to explore strategic alternatives.

Last year, Golden Gate took a 9.5 percent stake in Ann, saying the stock was undervalued.
Ann operates 1,025 Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Factory, Loft and Loft Outlet stores in 47 states and Canada.

For the quarter ending January 31, Ann reported that net sales rose 4 percent to $647 million. Earnings per share for the quarter were 1 cent, including an 11 cent per share impact as a result of a strike at a West Coast port, versus 10 cents in the same period last year.