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UPDATE 1-Italy's Safilo shares plunge on cash call plans

(Adds comment from broker, background, updates share price)

MILAN, June 30 (Reuters) - Shares in Safilo Group fell as much as 17% on Wednesday after the Italian eyewear maker said it planned to raise up to 135 million euros ($161 million) in cash by issuing new shares to repay a costly loan and strengthen its finances.

Safilo has been hit by French luxury group LVMH’s decision to end licence agreements with the Italian spectacle maker to set up its own joint venture in the eyewear business. Safilo lost the prestigious Dior licence at the start of the year and will lose the Fendi one from Thursday.

Safilo, the world’s second-biggest eyewear producer, has also faced tougher competition from industry leader Luxxottica which has merged with the world’s largest lens maker, Essilor, to create sector giant EssilorLuxottica

The capital hike is aimed at repaying a 90 million euro loan from the company’s shareholders which had supported two acquisitions Safilo completed last year.

Safilo’s main shareholder, Dutch investment firm HAL Holding NV, has committed to subscribing to the cash call to preserve its 49.84% stake in the group.

To rebuild its portfolio, Safilo has bought two U.S. eyewear brands with a strong online presence, Blenders Eyewear and Privé Goods.

“In 2020, also thanks to the shareholder loan made available by HAL, we were able to timely finalize two important acquisitions,” CEO Angelo Trocchia said in a statement.

“It is now the right moment for us to repay this loan, to close a chapter and face new opportunities.”

Safilo’s shareholders will vote upon the proposal at an extraordinary meeting on July 30.

Shares were down 13.2% by 0830 GMT against Milan’s all share index which was down 1%.

Broker BestInver said in a research note it expected some short-term pressure on the stock following the announcement, adding the transaction would significantly reduce the company’s debt charges, while making it easier to access new bank financing.

Safilo said it would save interest payments equal to 9% for each year of the residual duration of the loan, which expires in 2026. ($1 = 0.8410 euros) (Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Valentina Za, editing by Louise Heavens)

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