PARIS — Groupe Clarins feted its 50th birthday on Friday, the same day it hosted a financial analysts’ meeting here to discuss business in 2003.

“It was a good year in particularly difficult conditions,” said Christian Courtin, president and chief executive of the company. “It was the second consecutive year of recovery after 2001.”

As reported, Clarins’ net profits for 2003 dropped 49.2 percent to $36.8 million at current exchange rates, or 30.3 million euros, year-on-year, largely due to a one-off restructuring cost that stemmed from the discontinuation of Thierry Mugler Couture operations. Clarins’ consolidated net sales decreased 0.4 percent at average exchange rates to $1.12 billion, or 889.1 million euros.

Courtin said the closure of the Mugler couture operations, which resulted in an exceptional aftertax charge of $41.4 million, or 34.2 million euros, means Clarins is “relieved of a weight.”

“The source of loss that we’ve been carrying for the past seven years is definitively eliminated,” said Pierre Milet, the company’s vice president of finance and administration.

Clarins’ results were generally in line with analysts’ expectations.

As for the first quarter of 2004, the company’s sales were “flat” at constant exchange versus the same period in 2003, said Courtin, without divulging an actual euro figure, which will be published April 8.

During the meeting, Olivier Courtin, vice president of Clarins’ research and development, reviewed some of the firm’s star launches in the recent past. Supra Serum Haute Exigence Multi-Intensif targets Baby Boomers; three products were added to the Clarins Men skin care line, and a seven-unit whitening products collection was created specifically for, and bowed in, Asia.

As for upcoming items, the firm is gearing up to introduce a Clarins-branded fragrance “relatively soon,” according to Christian Courtin, who added a scent for beauty licensee Stella Cadente is also in the works.

On the retail front, Clarins is slated to open a second New York freestanding store in SoHo, which was created with Olivier Baussan — founder of L’Occitane, in which Clarins has a minority stake. This comes after the inauguration of the first Clarins boutique on Madison Avenue in November 2003. That location, with four treatment rooms, generates $85,000 per month, according to Olivier Courtin.Elsewhere, in Hong Kong, a stand-alone Clarins door is operational.

Christian Courtin said he is not currently pursuing any acquisitions for Clarins, although he said the company is “always open to opportunities.”

These days, his firm is studying projects that would reinforce its position not just in selective distribution channels. At least one is related to pharmacies and parapharmacies — stores specializing in nonprescription treatments, he said.

One of the meeting’s highlights took place when Clarins founder Jacques Courtin, who is also chairman of the company’s supervisory board, reminisced about the half-century-old firm.

“[Clarins] owes everything to women,” he said, adding that more recently — with the launch of the company’s skin care line for men — it has become indebted to males, too.

Courtin said keys to his company’s success over the years have been its keen attentiveness to consumers and honesty vis-a-vis the press.

Overall, Clarins executives remain upbeat about the company’s future. Christian Courtin reiterated his expectation that the firm’s sales will grow about 5 percent on a like-for-like currency basis in 2004, despite today’s unstable international climate, which “hampers visibility.

“We remain very confident about the solidity of our brands,” he said. “We are extremely optimistic for the year.”

Clarins stock closed down 1.26 percent, at a unit price of $61.64, or 50.90 euros, on the Paris Bourse Friday.

— Brid Costello and Jennifer Weil

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