On The Block

Automotive giant Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) is widely rumored to be considering some sort of a major sale, whether it be the sale of its credit arm Ford Motor Credit Co., the divestiture of well-known car brands, such as Jaguar, or even a massive public-to-private of Ford itself. Among the fodder for the speculation was former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s resignation from the company’s board of directors. Rubin cited a potential conflict of interest with his duties as a member of the chairman’s office at Citigroup—meaning that the Ford family may consider calling on Citigroup for advisory services or for financing needed for a possible buyout. Amid deteriorating sales and market share, Ford, the number-two U.S. automaker, lost $1.4 billion during the first half of 2006. Ford has a market capitalization of about $15.4 billion.

Alcoholic beverages producer Brown-Forman Corp. (NYSE: BFB) is considering a potential sale of its leather goods and luggage subsidiary, Hartmann Inc. The maker of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Southern Comfort has retained SunTrust Robinson Humphrey to advise it in the exploration of strategic alternatives. “With Brown-Forman’s increasing focus on our global beverage business, we want to ensure that Hartmann and its employees have the very best chance to realize their full potential,” Paul Varga, Brown-Forman’s CEO, said in a prepared statement. Based in Lebanon, Tenn., Hartmann is one of the oldest luggage manufacturers in the U.S. It was purchased by Lenox Inc. in 1983, and Brown-Forman then bought Lenox in the same year. Hartmann had sales of $32 million in the fiscal year ending April 30 2006, representing less than 2% of Brown-Forman’s total sales for that year. Hartmann employs approximately 250 people, most of whom work in the U.S.

Cowen and Co. LLC has been tapped by the ailing Celebrate Express Inc. (Nasdaq: BDAY) to help the company review strategic alternatives. Despite its name, Celebrate Express’ balance sheet is nothing to get jovial over. For the fiscal year 2006, ended May 31, the company reported net income of only $405,000, compared with $2.5 million for the previous fiscal year and $9.5 million for fiscal 2004. The Kirkland, Wash.-based company is an e-commerce provider of celebration products that currently operates two business-to-consumer brands: Birthday Express (BirthdayExpress.com), which markets children’s party products; and Costume Express (CostumeExpress.com), which markets costumes and matching accessories. In June, the company discontinued the catalog for its third brand, Storybook Heirlooms (Storybook.com), which offered girls’ special occasion and specialty apparel, due to multiple years of losses.

Having already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, The Foreside Co. has hired investment bank Tully & Holland Inc. to look into selling the entire company. Fifteen-year-old Foreside is a wholesaler and retailer of imported home accents, selling to catalogs, national chains, big-box stores, and more than 5,000 independent boutiques. Additionally, the company operates seven retail stores in the Northeast. Gorham, Maine-based Foreside reportedly listed assets of $6.14 million and debts of $9.19 million. According to one report, Tully & Holland, is looking for a closing sometime in the fall.