* CEO sees "significant" revenue growth on China expansion
* Moleskine "better" than luxury brands financially -CEO
* Shares rise nearly 3 pct, outperform Milan's broad index
(Adds CEO quotes, details, updates shares)
By Antonella Ciancio
MILAN, April 3 Shares in upmarket notebook maker
Moleskine rose in their market debut in Milan on
Wednesday, defying broad market weakness in this year's first
major stock listing in crisis-hit Italy.
The maker of notebooks based on originals used by Ernest
Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin is the first company to join the
main Milan stock market since the listing of cashmere brand
Brunello Cucinelli nearly a year ago.
Shares in Moleskine rose nearly 3 percent in early trading,
outperforming Italy's broad share index, which was
down 0.5 percent, underlining investor interest in brands that
appeal to style-conscious consumers.
Moleskine was up 0.17 percent at 1038 GMT to 2.31 euros
from the 2.30 euros price the company had set for its 488
million euro ($626.5 million) initial public offering (IPO).
The Milan-based company was valued at a discount to
exclusive names such as Prada but in line with luxury
brands with strong margins and growth in foreign markets.
"We are better than the average of luxury makers in terms of
profitability," Chief Executive Arrigo Berni told Reuters at the
market launch ceremony at Milan's stock exchange.
Founded in 1997, the company makes its thread-bound jotters
in Asia, with a margin on sales of 43 percent.
Moleskine is the fourth upscale Italian brand to tap the
stock market in under two years, following the IPOs of Prada,
Salvatore Ferragamo and Cucinelli.
Berni said he expected "significant" growth in coming years
as Moleskine develops apps and other digital products for a
growing number of smartphone users and opens its first stores in
"We are not like Rolex, which makes exclusivity and price an
integral part of its appeal," Berni said.
Moleskine sells 90 percent of its 15-euro notebooks outside
Italy, which is struggling with a deep recession and stuck in a
political limbo after inconclusive elections.
"I hear the concerns that Italy doesn't have a government,"
said Raffaele Jerusalmi, CEO of Italian stock exchange Borsa
Italiana, adding that the listing provided a sign of confidence.
"It is even more important to have a market flotation at
this moment of uncertainty."
Moleskine offered 106.3 million shares, including 12 million
new ones, meaning just over 50 percent of the company's shares
are now traded on the market.
Demand for the shares has come from investors in Italy,
Britain, elsewhere in Europe, the United States and Asia. The
offer was 90 percent reserved to institutional investors.
Private equity funds Syntegra Capital and Index Ventures,
alongside founder Francesco Franceschi and management, will
pocket most of the 244 million euros generated by the sale.
Moleskine has seen growth of around 25 percent per year
since Syntegra bought 75 percent for around 60 million euros in
2006. The company had revenues of 78 million euros in 2012.
Moleskine, whose products also include leather covers for
tablets and writing tools, said remaining proceeds from the
capital increase would be used to halve debt to 12 million euros
while retail growth would be funded through cash generation.
($1 = 0.7789 euros)
(Additional reporting by Elisa Anzolin; Writing by Lisa Jucca
and Antonella Ciancio; Editing by Mark Potter and Helen