RPT-Italy's Moleskine eyes post-IPO expansion in Asia, Latin America
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* Plans to open stores in Shanghai, Beijing
* Offering shares at 2-2.65 euros each
* Proceeds will partly be used to reduce debt
MILAN, March 18 (Reuters) - Italy's Moleskine plans to expand into Asia and Latin America, the maker of black notebooks said on Monday, as it began taking orders from investors for its upcoming Milan stock market debut.
Over the weekend, the maker of thread-bound jotters based on originals favoured by Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway set a price range of 2-2.65 euros per share for the offering, which is expected to be completed this month.
Launching the sale on Monday, Chief Executive Arrigo Berni said Moleskine expected to open stores in Shanghai and Beijing this year, with Latin America also among its expansion plans.
"We expect China to become a more important market for us in the long-term," Berni told reporters gathered at the Milan stock exchange as the firm began an investor roadshow that will also take in London, New York, Boston, Paris, Frankfurt and Geneva.
Chief Finance Officer Alessandro Strati said the company also planned to buy an e-commerce platform in the second half of this year, which it expected would generate a 30 percent increase in revenues.
Moleskine, which expects to be valued at up to 560 million euros ($732 million), is floating a stake of just over 50 percent, with private equity owners Syntegra Capital and Index Ventures reducing their holdings.
Berni said proceeds from new shares sold in the offering would be partly used to refinance existing bank debt, reducing it by half to around 20 million euros.
While strong European stock markets, many of which have hit multi-year highs this month, have encouraged a flurry of firms to unveil plans to list, Italy's FTSE MIB index has fared less well.
The index has fallen nearly 10 percent since the end of January, with investors spooked by the uncertain political situation following an inconclusive Italian election last month.
Syntegra Capital partner Marco Ariello said the firm was not worried about the higher level of volatility following the election, which did not delay the plans to list.
CONFIDENT ON GROWTH
Moleskine is the fourth upmarket Italian brand to go public in under two years, following Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Brunello Cucinelli.
According to Moleskine's offer prospectus, its price range gives the company a valuation of between 22 and 29.1 times 2012 earnings, a discount to Prada and fellow luxury brand Tumi , which trade at 34.7 times and 34.2 times respectively, but above Burberry on 21.9 times.
"The valuation is fair. Multiples are at a discount to top luxury makers. The company has good potential to grow in the U.S.," said a Milan investor who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
"This is not necessarily a brand you need to have in your portfolio but the management seems confident about growth," he said as he left the presentation.
The United States accounts for around 30 percent of Moleskine's sales, with Europe making up half.
The Milan-based company makes only 10 percent of revenues in Italy, where sales have declined amid the recession.
Order books on the listing, being run by Goldman Sachs , Mediobanca and UBS, are expected to close on March 27, with the company making its market debut on April 3.