PARIS -- Luggage and leather goods paced the gains in operating profits posted by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in the first half, the luxury conglomerate announced Thursday.

The category scored a 44 percent increase in operating profit to hit $263.5 million (1.39 billion francs) in the six months. As reported, luggage and leather goods sales in the period rose 31 percent to $600.5 million (3.18 billion francs). The results reflected buoyant sales of the Cuir Epi and Taiga lines of Louis Vuitton.

LVMH has already reported overall profit results as well as overall sales and sales by product category. First-half net income for LVMH, excluding unusual items, rose 36 percent to $240 million (1.27 billion francs). Thanks to a one-time capital gain from the sale of a 34 percent interest in Moet Hennessy to British beverage group Guinness, LVMH achieved total net income of $897.2 million (4.75 billion francs) in the first six months of this year. Group sales in the opening half rose 20 percent to $2.27 billion (12 billion francs) in the opening half.

Breaking down six-month profits by product category, LVMH said recent product launches helped boost operating profit in the perfume and beauty division 8 percent to $66.5 million (352 million francs). Sales in the division gained 8 percent to $583.5 million (3.09 billion francs).

Cognac and spirits racked up a 17 percent gain in first-half operating profit to $172.2 million (912 million francs), due a rebound in its Japanese business, where price reductions boosted demand. Sales for the category rose 11.5 percent to $528.8 million (2.8 billion francs). The champagne and wine division profit improved 37 percent to $22.3 million (118 million francs), in part due to lower grape prices and production costs, mainly achieved through layoffs; its sales rose 6.5 percent to $358.8 million (1.9 billion francs).

Finally, operating profit in other activities, essentially LVMH's fashion holdings and its horticultural interests, was flat at $24.9 million (132 million francs). Sales in this area totaled $179.6 million (951 million francs), 2 1/2 times the year-ago period, but for the first time included LVMH's fashion holdings in Givenchy, Kenzo and Christian Lacroix.

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