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PARIS-French retail group PPR plans to sell its Printemps department stores for euro 1.075 billion ($1.35 billion) to an Italian retail chain backed by Rreef, the real estate arm of Deutsche Asset Management. In a joint statement, the parties said they were in exclusive negotiations to sell their assets to Maurizio Borletti, the chief shareholder in the department store group La Rinascente.

The flagship Paris store, which dates from the late 19th century, occupies entire city blocks fronting the Boulevard Haussmann, adjacent to rival Galeries Lafayette’s main outlet. Printemps has 16 other stores in large towns across France.

For weeks, there has been speculation that the business would be bought by property groups, possibly Unibail and Rodamco, because the real estate portfolio is seen as even more appealing that the operational aspects of the business. There was also speculation that rival retailer Galeries Lafayette was preparing a joint bid with an unnamed property group.

But Wednesday’s statement ends the speculation. The PPR statement added that Rreef and the Borletti group intend to invest heavily in Printemps in order to turn it into one of the leading retail players in Europe. “We want Printemps and its employees to be part of a new surge in development as we continue the repositioning and brand improvement policy that was launched several years ago,” Borletti said.

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