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Procter & Gamble May Sell Duncan Hines

From Wire Reports

Procter & Gamble Co.

said it’s exploring options, including a possible sale, for its slow-growing Duncan Hines baking mix brand.

The Cincinnati-based company said it will keep the brand if it doesn’t receive an adequate offer in the next few months. The unit, which employs 300 people, generated less than $400 million of P&G’s $35.3 billion in sales last year.

The company plans to focus on its more profitable food brands, such as its Sunny Delight orange juice, Folgers coffee and Pringles potato chips.

The food and beverage unit, which generates about 12 percent of P&G’s revenue, had a 25 percent increase in sales in the past three years, the company said.

“From Wall Street’s perspective, the sale is probably positive, since they will likely use that money to buy back stock, which should keep investors excited,” said Jeff Middleswart, an analyst with David W. Tice & Associates.

P&G’s stock fell 1-3/4 to 133-1/8.

Likely buyers include H.J. Heinz Co., Kellogg Co. and particularly General Mills Inc., which owns the Betty Crocker baking mix brand, said Middleswart.

The sale likely has more to do with the company trying to keep up interest in its stock, which declined 13 percent since July 25 amid concern the company wouldn’t maintain annual earnings growth.

“The strategy of late has been to have a never ending succession of deals to generate interest in the stock,” said Middleswart.

If the company does sell the Duncan Hines brand, its other food and beverage businesses are growing fast enough that they could absorb most of the employees from the baking mix business, the company said.

If Procter & Gamble receives no satisfactory bids, it will keep Duncan Hines, the company said.

P&G acquired Duncan Hines in 1956 when it bought Hines-Park Foods and the rights to the Duncan Hines name.

Some of the stocks that are moving substantially or trading heavily Friday:

NYSE

Toy Biz, down 3/4 at 8-7/8

Marvel Entertainment Group, down 1/8 at 1-7/8

The New York-based Marvel said late Thursday that it’s unlikely to complete a previously announced deal with its lenders and Toy Biz to merge with the comic-book company.

NASDAQ

Versa Technologies, up 2-1/4 at 22-1/2

The Racine, Wis.-based maker of components and systems said it is considering a $138 million buyout offer from Applied Power of Butler, Wis.

VideoLabs, up 1-7/16 at 2-7/8

The maker of professional image capture devices said that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service will use its FlexCam desktop video cameras to aid enforcement efforts.

Netscape Communications, up 1-3/16 at 39-13/16

Novell and Oracle said they will use its Netscape Navigator client software as their preferred browser.

Outlook Group, up 1-1/4 at 7-1/4

The Neenah, Wis.-based graphic services and packaging company will be acquired by an affiliate of the Minneapolis investment banking firm Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison.

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