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UPDATE 1-Strong Asia growth powers Hermes sales in Q1

(Adds comments from executive)

MILAN, April 22 (Reuters) - Sales at Birkin bag maker Hermes soared 44% in the first quarter, powered by strong growth in Asia, where revenues nearly doubled from a year earlier as COVID-19 restrictions eased and shops reopened.

The French luxury group, which has weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than rivals, said revenues at constant exchange rates came in at 2.08 billion euros ($2.50 billion) in the three months to March, beating analyst expectations for a 24% increase.

Sales in Asia excluding Japan surged 94% over the period, with growth in China especially significant. That, coupled with a rebound in the United States where sales grew by 24% helped the group more than offset a decline in sales in Europe due to a new round of coronavirus lockdowns.

Eric du Halgouët, Executive Vice President for Finance at the group, told reporters the sales growth in the quarter was not driven by a big increase in prices, as the group had nudged prices up by just 1.4% so far this year.

He said online sales had increased by 100% or more in all regions, and would likely soon exceed 1 billion euros.

The group’s strong first quarter - with sales up 33% from their 2019 levels - adds to signs of a comeback for the luxury goods sector, with rivals LVMH and Kering also reporting a surge in revenues.

However du Halgouët said it was too early to predict that the industry would put the coronavirus crisis squarely behind it this year, pointing to fresh concerns about a possible resurgence of the virus in Japan. ($1 = 0.8309 euros) (Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Agnieszka Flak)

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