By  on April 1, 2008

MILAN — Economic slowdown? Not at Prada SpA.

The Italian luxury group, which owns the Prada, Miu Miu, Car Shoe and Church's brands, said Monday that earnings increased by almost two-thirds in 2007, following bumper sales of leather goods and accessories and growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

But as for a key question — plans for an initial public offering — the company gave no further clues whether it would proceed with a listing on the Milan Stock Exchange later this year.

For the 12 months through Jan. 31, net profits gained 65.8 percent to 126.8 million euros, or $173.8 million at average exchange. Sales for the period increased 14.1 percent to 1.66 billion euros, or $2.27 billion.

Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli said the firm's "best ever" results would allow the company to pursue its development plan, including "important investments." He provided no further details.

Bertelli added an IPO represented "an opportunity for the group to give our growth projects a further boost," but did not commit to a date.

"We will continue to monitor the financial markets very carefully and we will assess the best time for an initial public offering," Bertelli said.

Prada has called off an IPO three times in the last seven years, citing unfavorable market conditions.

A company spokesman said last month the group planned to list in either June or November, pending the outcome of consultations with advisers and due diligence analysis. According to sources close to the deal, the company, which is 95 percent owned by the Prada family, will decide before the end of April if it is to list in June.

Prada appointed Italy's Intesa Sanpaolo SpA and Unicredit SpA and Goldman Sachs & Co. as its banks last year. The luxury group is expected to offer some 30 to 40 percent of its equity to investors.

Recent estimates value Prada at 4 billion euros to 5 billion euros, or $6.32 billion to $7.9 billion at current exchange.

In Monday's statement, Prada said earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization gained 33.9 percent to 316 million euros, or $433.2 million, yielding an average growth rate of 29 percent over the last three years. Debt fell by 41.6 million euros, or $57 million, to 507.5 million euros, or $695.7 million.The Prada brand generated the bulk of group turnover, with revenues of 1.34 billion euros, or $1.84 billion, up 10.8 percent on last year. Sales of the flagship brand rose 33.6 percent in Asia-Pacific, while revenues from leather goods and accessories gained 17.5 percent.

The Miu Miu and Car Shoe brands both registered sales increases of over 40 percent to 223 million euros, or $305.7 million, and 25.8 million euros, or $35.4 million, respectively. Church's contributed sales of 44.2 million euros, or $60.6 million, from May 31, the date 100 percent of the brand was included in the group's consolidated financial statements.

Overall, sales of leather goods and accessories, which represent two-fifths of company turnover, grew 25 percent, while revenues in Asia-Pacific rose 41.9 percent. Prada also highlighted a 10.8 percent increase in sales in North America — its second biggest market behind Europe — despite the signs of an economic downturn in the second half of last year and the strong euro.

"This performance is even more significant considering the best results were achieved in the second half of the year," Prada said.

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