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Exclusive: KKR pulls out of Jones Group auction - sources

By Olivia Oran and Greg Roumeliotis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Private equity firm KKR & Co LP has withdrawn from the bidding process for Jones Group Inc , two people familiar with the matter said on Thursday, raising questions over the prospects of the auction for the fashion and footwear company.

KKR, which had teamed up with Sycamore Partners LLC, another buyout firm, was the only party vying to buy the whole company, the people said, asking not to be identified because details of the sale process are confidential.

Jones Group shares ended trading down 3.7 percent at $15.64 on Thursday after dropping as much as 8 percent on the news. The stock has risen 47 percent year-to-date on hopes of a sale, outperforming a 19 percent rise in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.INX>.

It was not clear whether Sycamore Partners would remain in the sale process. Other bidders continued to vie for parts of Jones Group and the company requested new offers from prospective bidders earlier this week, the people said.

Shoemaker Steven Madden Ltd , women's footwear designer Vince Camuto, and private equity firms Golden Gate Capital LLC and Sun Capital Partners Inc are among the bidders vying for some parts of Jones Group, other people familiar with the matter said this week.

KKR, Sycamore, Golden Gate and Sun Capital declined to comment. Representatives of Jones Group, Steven Madden and Vince Camuto did not respond to requests for comment.

Jones Group, which has a market value of $1.3 billion and has struggled to keep up with competition in recent years, has hired Citigroup Inc to explore a sale of the company, people familiar with the matter said in July.

The auction followed pressure from activist hedge fund manager Barington Capital Group LP, whose chief executive James Mitarotonda joined the board of Jones in May. Barington urged Jones to focus on its shoe brands and to pare down its noncore fashion brands.

In April, Jones said it would close about 170 under-performing U.S. stores by mid-2014 and cut its workforce by about 8 percent as it tries to revive profits. It posted an unexpected second-quarter operating profit in July, helped by a surge in sales of its jeans to U.S. department stores.

(Reporting by Olivia Oran and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Gary Hill)

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