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UPDATE 2-Moncler sales recover at year-end, boosted by China

(Adds comments on start of 2021, China)

MILAN, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Sales at luxury puffer jacket maker Moncler recovered in the key final quarter of 2020, rising by 8% and beating expectations as soaring revenues in China helped offset a decline in Europe and fallout from the pandemic. Sales in the October-December period, which is particularly important for winter-clothes orientated Moncler, totalled 675 million euros ($815 million).

The 8% increase at constant exchange rates compared with an analyst consensus forecast cited by UBS for a 1% dip. Chief Operating Officer Roberto Eggs told analysts the company was also off to a strong start in 2021, as trends seen in the last months of 2020 continued.

He said sales were slightly better than expected in China with triple digit growth in February, which this year included the Lunar New Year holiday, a crucial shopping period for retailers.

However, he cautioned that comparisons with last year in the luxury industry’s most important market were tricky because the 2020 New Year holiday fell earlier in the year and shops were closed in February as China became the first country to go into lockdown.

“We want to extend our footprint in China,” Eggs said, adding the group would open 8 new stores in the Asia Pacific region this year. Fourth quarter sales rose by 26% in Asia and 5% in the Americas, offsetting a 13% decline in Europe excluding Italy, where revenues fell by 34%. Online sales boomed, accounting for 15% of total revenues, compared with 10% in 2019, as the group moves to bring all its e-commerce business in-house and launch a new website in 2021.

Moncler said it will also focus on integrating high-end streetwear brand Stone Island, which it bought in December and will consolidate from April 1.

Despite an uncertain outlook for the year, Chief Executive Remo Ruffini said he felt the group was now better equipped to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

It expects some movement restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus to remain in place for much of 2021, denting tourist flows and local shopping.

Full-year revenues declined by 11% to 1.44 billion euros. Net profit dropped by 16% to 300 million euros, but still beat a consensus estimate provided by the company of 199 million euros, thanks to lower marketing spending and other costs.

$1 = 0.8283 euros Editing by Silvia Aloisi, Kirsten Donovan

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