By  on February 22, 2008

MILAN — Benetton Group SpA said Thursday earnings increased more than 16 percent in 2007, although the Italian clothing retailer expects business to slow this year.

Net profit for the 12 months ended Dec. 31 grew 16.3 percent to 145 million euros, or $198.8 million at average exchange, while sales gained 9.1 percent to 2.09 billion, or $2.86 billion, in line with company targets.

Ordinary earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization increased more than 27 percent to 337 million euros, or $461.9 million.

Looking to the current year, Benetton said it expected sales growth to slow to between 6 and 8 percent on a like-for-like basis. Net profit and EBITDA are forecast to grow over 7 percent.

Benetton lost more than a third of its value on the Milan Stock Exchange in January on fears that slowing economic growth and consumer spending could undermine retailers this year. The Benetton family has since added to its controlling stake, buying shares worth 5.5 million euros, or $8.1 million at current exchange, through an investment vehicle, which holds about 67 percent of the company.

Benetton's stock closed up 3.5 percent to 9.48 euros, or $13.93, at the end of trading in Milan on Thursday — although the share price is still down almost a quarter this year.

Benetton's board met Thursday to view the preliminary results for 2007 pending the final numbers, which are due for release on March 19.

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