As IPOs return, Milan index aims to be fashion hub

COLLEEN BARRY Associated Press Published:

MILAN (AP) -- Moncler, an Italian fashion house known for its down jackets, is launching an initial public offering this month in what Milan's main stock exchange hopes will boost its plan to become an international hub for luxury goods company listings.

It's the second attempt at a public listing for Moncler, a formerly French mountainwear company that pulled back two years ago due to weak market conditions. That it is going ahead bodes well for the Milan Stock Exchange, which is trying to use the city's mix of financial and fashion know-how to attract luxury goods companies in need of financing -- particularly at a time when banks are offering fewer loans.

Currently, 17 luxury producers, including Salvatore Ferragamo shoemaker, Brunello Cucinelli cashmere casualwear, Moleskin bound journals, Tod's leatherwear and Luxottica eyewearmaker, are listed in Milan for a total sector market value of 32 billion euros ($43 billion). That's up from 13 billion euros a decade ago.

"It's the moment for luxury," said Gianluca Pacini, an analyst at the bank Intesa San Paolo. Moncler in particular, Pacini said, has a strong business and shown good earnings growth. The company went from 50 million euros in revenues in 2003 to 489 million euros last year, for net earnings of 82.4 million euros.

Raffaele Jerusalemi , chief executive of the Milan Stock Exchange, expects another four or five luxury companies to follow Moncler in the coming months. He says the successful stock launches of Ferragamo and Cucinelli, which have nearly doubled their market value in the last year, are going a long way to persuading small- and medium-sized Italian companies to go to markets for cash.

"There's a strong change of mentality by this generation," he said, though he acknowledged it has taken time to reduce reluctance of Italian business owners to open up their books to investors.

"The fear entrepreneurs had about giving out information has changed a bit, also because banks are less able to give out money they need to grow," Jerusalemi said.

Banks in Italy took huge losses during the financial crisis and are cutting down on risks -- that means fewer loans, particularly to small businesses of the kind that dominate the fashion world in Italy.

Milan's attraction, according to Jerusalemi, lies in its concentration of global fashion brands and the diversity of investors on the exchange. The vast majority of shareholders in listed companies are foreign.

Milan's main rival in this sector is Paris. But there, the fashion industry is listed through fewer, larger companies. On the main CAC-40 index only two fashion companies are listed -- conglomerates Kering and LVMH -- with a combined market cap of 89 billion euros.

Moncler's listing values the company at more than 2 billion euros, with a price per share ranging from 8.75 euros to 10.20 euros. The company is floating 26.7 percent of its shares. Chairman and creative director Remo Ruffini, who has led the company's turnaround since taking it over in 2003, will retain his 31.9 percent stake.

Ruffini has taken the company, which was founded in 1952 in Grenoble, France, as a mountain sports clothing maker, and transformed it into a fashion house centered on down jackets that has been moving into runway styles. The company expanded into luxury menswear and womenswear, opening Moncler boutiques worldwide.

Demand for the shares currently exceeds the offer by 12 percent, according to people with knowledge of the share listing who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The listing closes Dec. 11.

"It was Milan or Paris," Ruffini said of his choice for a listing. "Milan is our headquarters, even if we respect the DNA of the brand."