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Investor pushes L Brands to spin off Victoria's Secret

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FILE PHOTO: A customer passes by an L Brands Inc., Victoria's Secret retail store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (Reuters)
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(Reuters) - Activist investor Barington Capital on Tuesday urged L Brands to separate its Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works businesses, in an effort to turn around the struggling consumer brands owner.

Barington urged the company to retain advisers and explore either a spin off of the underperforming Victoria's Secret brand or take the much financially stronger Bath & Body Works public.

The hedge fund also suggested that the role of chairman and chief executive officer be held by separate individuals, an increasingly popular demand by activist investors who feel it would help companies run better.

In a letter to L Brands' chairman Leslie Wexner, Barington said the "true potential" of Bath & Body Works had not been realized because of years of weak performance at Victoria's, stemming from a failure to maintain a strong brand image and missteps with merchandising.

Barington did not disclose the size of its ownership stake in L Brands. It did not immediately respond to emails seeking details.

Shares in L Brands rose 3 percent to $27.50 in early trading after Barington's announcement, having fallen last week after reporting poor quarterly results.

L Brands did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"The company has significantly underperformed its peers and the market as a whole," Barington Chairman James Mitarotonda said.

He also expressed concern over a lack of diversity on L Brands' board — nine of its 12 directors are men — and pointed out that some directors had sat on the board for decades.

Barington's call for separating the company comes just days after apparel maker Gap Inc announced it would spin off its better-performing Old Navy brand.

L Brands' shares have fallen nearly 40 percent in the last 12 months. By comparison, the S&P composite 1500 apparel retail index had risen about 13 percent in the same period.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

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