By  on October 28, 2009

LONDON — Double-digit growth in North America, coupled with favorable currency fluctuations and new store openings worldwide, boosted first-half sales at Tommy Hilfiger Group by 3.4 percent to 772 million euros, or $1.08 billion, from 747 million euros, or $1.05 billion.

All figures have been converted at average exchange rates for the six-month period ending Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, chief executive officer Fred Gehring said the group’s plans for an initial public offering remain “on ice,” although a stock market listing is still part of the company’s vision.

“We are going to consider it for sure, but when we go depends on how the market evolves. We’ll do it when the time is right,” he said Tuesday. “At the moment, however, we are not actively thinking about it. We are working on building the business.”

Although the company, which is owned by Apax Partners, had never formally announced plans for an IPO in 2007, it was no secret it was preparing to list on Euronext, the pan-European stock exchange. The company put those plans on hold in January 2008 because of volatile market conditions.

Gehring said he was upbeat about the current half, despite the “unstable” environment.

“The past six months have been such an unusual time, but I do think we have left the tougher period behind us. Hopefully, we are at the end of the crisis,” he said, adding he expected second-half sales growth to be “more or less” in line with the first six months.

Hilfiger said sales in North America rose 13.1 percent to 324 million euros, or $453.6 million, from 286.4 million euros, or $401 million, due to strong growth at retail.

The company said the addition of handbags, footwear and new product groups at Macy’s resulted in sales growth of 23.3 percent.

Gehring said sales at Hilfiger’s new Manhattan flagship are “substantially ahead of plan,” and have been given a boost by international customers taking advantage of the weak dollar. He said the U.K. business, too, was strong, thanks in part to tourists trading on the weaker pound.

In the six-month period, sales in Europe fell 6.4 percent to 365 million euros, or $511 million, from 390 million euros, or $546 million, due to a slowdown in wholesale volumes due to more cautious buying, the statement said.

In the period, the company also reduced its European customer base by 15 percent in a bid to consolidate its wholesale portfolio.

In Japan, sales were up 20.1 percent, thanks entirely to currency fluctuations. They would have decreased 1.8 percent at constant currency rates, the company said. Sales at franchises in Central and South America, the Middle East and Asia were up 9.8 percent, but flat at constant exchange rates.

Gehring said he was particularly proud of the interim sales increase because the company’s attitude over the past six months has been “less growth focused” — and more concentrated on streamlining operations.

“When the crisis hit last October, we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s not be too hung up on growth, and focus instead on the balance sheet and working capital.’ So we looked at improving efficiencies, processes and inventory levels — and we are ahead of our aggressive plans,” Gehring said.

Forty new store openings in the six-month period took Tommy Hilfiger’s global retail portfolio to 950 units. About 50 percent of those are wholly owned and operated.

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