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2ND LD: Murakami Fund wants Matsuzakaya to fire employees+
[February 02, 2006]

2ND LD: Murakami Fund wants Matsuzakaya to fire employees+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)NAGOYA, Feb. 3_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING INFO, 3RD-5TH GRAF, CHANGING DATELINE)

An investment fund led by financier Yoshiaki Murakami has unofficially sounded out department store operator Matsuzakaya Co. on the possibility of reviewing its business plan by firing all full-time employees and shutting down some of its stores, sources familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The proposal is "absolutely unthinkable and goes against any common sense," a senior Matsuzakaya official said.

On Thursday night, the Murakami Fund said on its website that the Kyodo News report "goes against the truth."

The fund said it has made various proposals to enhance the corporate value of the retailer since becoming its top shareholder.

"Using common sense, it is obvious that we would never make the kind of proposal that will lower the morale of the employees, such as firing all of them," it said, "although our proposals include MBO (management buyout) and EBO (employee buyout)."

The sources said the Murakami Fund made the proposal when it received a courtesy visit by a Matsuzakaya executive in December after it became the Nagoya-based retailer's top shareholder with a 5.46 percent stake late last year.

The fund was the fourth-biggest Matsuzakaya shareholder at the end of August with a 3.14 percent stake.

According to the sources, Matsuzakaya brushed aside the proposal as unofficial, while the fund is interested in the department store operator's land holdings and construction of a building in Tokyo's Ginza shopping area.

Faced with poor earnings, Matsuzakaya closed two outlets in Osaka in 2004 and pulled the plug on operations in Paris in 2005.

But the company began improving its earnings last year due partly to the 2005 World Exposition held in Aichi Prefecture.

On Jan. 16, Matsuzakaya President Kunihiko Okuda issued a comment stressing that the company would "sincerely" consider any proposal that could enhance its corporate value.

But a Matsuzakaya spokesman said Thursday that as the Murakami Fund has made no official proposal, there is no information which should be made public.

Started as a kimono shop in 1611, Matsuzakaya operates nine department stores in five prefectures -- Tokyo, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Aichi and Osaka.

In the business year ended in February 2005, the company chalked up 345.7 billion yen in consolidated sales. Matsuzakaya had a group-wide workforce of 4,100, including part-time workers, as of the end of last August.

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