PARIS — Hermes International posted a strong finish to 2005, even if its 8 percent gain in fourth-quarter sales to 437.1 million euros, or $520 million, was behind the double-digit pace of many of its luxury peers.The results were also a nose shy of analysts’ expectations, sending shares of Hermes slipping 0.1 percent to close at 209 euros, or $249.64, on the Paris Bourse.On the plus side, “excellent” consumer reaction to the scent Un Jardin sur le Nil lifted sales of the perfume category by 12.5 percent for the full year at constant exchange, Hermes said. The fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier, now in his second year as designer of Hermes ready-to-wear for women, also helped “revitalize” its rtw and accessories division, where full-year sales rose 7.6 percent.In an interview, Mireille Maury, managing director of finance and administration at Hermes, highlighted an acceleration of growth in the second half and a “very good” month of December, with sales up 17 percent in its European boutiques. She said January and February sales were “in line” with the overall trend of 2005, and that an increase in margins would allow it to achieve a double-digit gain in operating profits, which Hermes is slated to report March 23.Meanwhile, Hermes plans to ramp up its schedule of store openings and renovations to 30 this year from 8 in 2005. Forthcoming openings include a “Maison Hermes” in Seoul, a new seven-story building slated to open in June. Its glass brick “Maison” in Tokyo’s Ginza district will also be enlarged come October, with a new neighboring building offering 5,000 more square feet of selling space. New locations for this year include Amsterdam, Charlotte, N.C., Bangkok and Hangzhou in China.
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