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Waterford Wedgwood May Sell Rosenthal

Cash-strapped maker of luxury crystal and china confirmed it is considering the sale of its majority holding in porcelain tableware maker Rosenthal AG of Germany.

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Waterford Wedgwood PLC, the cash-strapped maker of luxury crystal and china, confirmed Monday it is considering the sale of its majority holding in porcelain tableware maker Rosenthal AG of Germany.

The Irish-based company was responding to weekend media reports that it is seeking a buyer for its 90 percent stake in Rosenthal of Selb, Germany.

In a brief statement Waterford Wedgwood said it had appointed investment bankers JPMorgan Cazenove to conduct ''a strategic review of the Rosenthal business.''

Waterford Wedgwood's battered shares jumped more than 28 percent to 0.9 euro cents (1.4 U.S. cents) from its record low of 0.7 euro cents (1.1 U.S. cents).

Rosenthal employs 1,800 people chiefly in the design, manufacture and distribution of porcelain tableware and ornaments, and furniture. Waterford Wedgwood acquired its majority stake in 1997 when the company was rapidly expanding on the back of surging sales for its hand-crafted crystal, porcelain and ceramics.

But Waterford Wedgwood has been battling a growing tide of red ink in this decade. In September, it reported a net debt of 473.4 million euros ($748.9 million) -- more than five times its market value.

More than half of the company's shares are owned by publishing magnate Tony O'Reilly and his brother-in-law Peter Goulandris, who have plowed more than 300 million euros ($450 million) personally into keeping the company afloat over the past five years.

The company has suffered from a combination of problems: high labor costs in its traditional manufacturing bases of Ireland and England, a decline in demand for its goods because of changing tastes and lifestyles, and the slumping value of the U.S. dollar.

Waterford Wedgwood has responded by selling off peripheral ventures; closing plants in Ireland and England; shifting production overseas to Eastern Europe, Indonesia and Brazil; cutting deals with trendy designers to undercut its old-fashioned image; and issuing new shareholdings that have badly diluted the stock's value.

But the company says it faces a cash crisis because it cannot secure further loans from banks.

Last month the Irish government refused a request to provide guarantees for a proposed euro39 million (US$61 million) loan for the Waterford Crystal plant in southeast Ireland. Half of the plant's approximately 1,000 workers are being laid off this year, while the rest face periodic company-ordered shutdowns because of excess stock.

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