By  on June 4, 2008

PARIS — There is no "For Sale" sign hanging on Hermès International."The family wants to keep control of its group...Hermès is a jewel," Bertrand Puech, executive manager, chairman and member of the management board, told shareholders at Hermès' annual meeting here Tuesday. "We are indeed desirable, but we are prudent and are bent on defending our property. No takeover bid is in view."The statement came amid persistent speculation of an imminent bid by luxury titan Bernard Arnault. Shares in Hermès International have been spiking in recent weeks, despite a denial from Arnault of any approach or share purchase.Shares in Hermès fell 7.6 percent to 99.30 euros, or $154.34 at current exchange, on the Paris Bourse.Patrick Thomas, chief executive officer, said he remains confident in the firm's growth potential despite economic turbulence. Hermès said this month that sales gained 13.4 percent in the first quarter to 415.1 million euros, or $621.7 million at average exchange rates, with a robust performance across all key product categories and regions, including the U.S.Thomas said April and May sales were in line, but warned growth in the second half could slow partly because of an unfavorable currency environment.Christian Blanckaert, executive vice president in charge of international affairs, cited Hermès' progress in Asian markets, in particular in China, despite sluggish duty free sales because of a slowdown in Japanese tourism. Along with Eastern Europe, Blanckaert listed the U.S. among the company's key growth markets. "It was quite ballsy of us to open the [flagship] on Wall Street [last June] but it's a way of showing to the U.S. that we were confident," he said.Key openings this year include India, Macao, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Oslo and San Diego. Hermès said it would soon open an e-commerce site in Japan.Responding to a shareholder question, Thomas confirmed Hermès, which recently sold six Hermès-branded helicopters it makes in partnership with Eurocopter, has received requests to customize private plane interiors. "We are considering offering that service," he said.

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