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UPDATE 2-France's SMCP sees late-2021 recovery thanks to China, vaccines

* Beats consensus on full-year EBITDA

* No detailed 2021 outlook, sees rebound in second half

* Expects particularly strong growth in China (Adds CEO comments from call)

March 24 (Reuters) - French lower-priced luxury group SMCP , the owner of Sandro and Maje, said it expected a rebound in late 2021 thanks to vaccination progress and strong prospects in China as it reported a smaller-than-expected drop in 2020 core profit.

All retailers were hit hard as governments forced shops to close during pandemic-related lockdowns, but SMCP has been helped by a quick recovery in Asia-Pacific, where it generates a quarter of its growth and plans to double that rate by 2025.

“I think we’re going to have a tale of two halves. The first half will still be challenging. However, I really feel optimistic about a recovery in the second half as vaccination reaches decent rates in many countries,” Chief Executive Daniel Lalonde told a news conference.

The CEO said the recovery should be especially pronounced in China, where its cheaper alternatives to Prada or Louis Vuitton products continued to gain traction with the fast-growing middle class.

“For the first two and a half months of trading in 2021, the only market that is comparable to 2019 is China,” Lalonde said.

However, the company did not provide a detailed outlook for 2021 because of continued crisis-related uncertainties.

Shares in SMCP dropped 2.9% after the announcement.

The Paris-based company said annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) dropped less than 40% to 179.6 million euros ($212.70 million) compared to analysts’ average forecast for a 55% decline in a Refinitiv poll.

SMCP added earnings showed a sharp improvement in the last six months of 2020.

Shares in SMCP have dropped 75% since late 2018 as the company was hit by a global economic slowdown followed by the coronavirus pandemic, but started 2021 with a pick-up of about 15% since the beginning of the year.

$1 = 0.8444 euros Reporting by Kate Entringer and Zuzanna Szymanska in Gdansk; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair

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