(Adds background on Levi Strauss)
By Joshua Franklin and Uday Sampath Kumar
March 20 (Reuters) - Levi Strauss & Co fetched a higher price than expected in its initial public offering (IPO) on Wednesday, selling $623.3 million in shares as the U.S. jeans maker looks to return to the stock market after 34 years as a family-owned company.
The success of the IPO underscores the diverging fortunes of retail companies over the last few years. Vendors like Levi with consistently popular offerings have flourished as they reach more shoppers through online channels, while tens of thousands of brick-and-mortar stores have closed under pressure from e-commerce giants such as Amazon.com Inc.
With the stock market hovering near all-time highs, Levi said it priced its IPO at $17 share, just above its target range of $14 to $16, valuing the company at about $6.6 billion.
The company, which claims to have invented blue jeans in the 19th century and is named for the man who founded it in 1853, is set to debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday under the ticker "LEVI".
In the IPO, $462.4 million worth of stock was sold by existing stockholders and the company sold $160.9 million in shares.
Levi is setting the stage for a bumper year for IPOs that will also feature the likes of ride-hailing startups Lyft Inc and Uber Technologies Inc later this year. IPOs in the U.S. amassed to $60.8 billion in 2018, up 23 percent from a year earlier and the highest since 2014, according to data provider Dealogic.
The popularity of denim is surging, driven by new styles such as high-waist and pinstriped jeans. Earlier this month American Eagle Outfitters Inc and Abercrombie & Fitch Co posted strong results boosted by denim sales.
Levi reported net revenue of $5.8 billion for the 12 months ending Nov. 25, up from $4.9 billion the year before. Net income was $285.2 million, only slightly up from $284.6 million a year earlier.
The Haas family, the descendants of Levi Strauss, will sell a small chunk of their shares and will continue to control the company. They took it private in 1985 in a $1.6 billion leveraged buyout. Levi Strauss first went public in 1971.
Founder Levi Strauss moved to San Francisco in 1853 during the California gold rush, opening a dry goods business.
The company he founded has laid claim to inventing blue jeans when Strauss and a partner in 1873 received a patent on using rivets to make clothes, a practice that still distinguishes the company's jeans. Over the years the company added new lines, including the office casual Dockers brand.
The proceeds from the IPO will boost Levi Strauss' coffers to invest in broadening its product range.
Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank Of America and Morgan Stanley are among the main underwriters of the IPO. (Reporting by Joshua Franklin in New York and Uday Sampath in Bengaluru Additional reporting by Peter Henderson in San Francisco; editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Bill Rigby)