* SMCP Q4 sales up 8.1 pct at constant currencies
* Group says mainland China sales particularly strong
* Will keep investing in China stores, e-commerce - CEO
* “Yellow vest” protests drag on French earnings (Recasts and writes through to focus on China comments, yellow vests impact in France)
PARIS, Jan 28 (Reuters) - SMCP, the group behind fashion brands Sandro and Maje, will keep up investments in e-commerce and new stores in China this year and expects sales to grow strongly, countering a simmering Sino-U.S. trade war, the French company’s CEO said.
The retail group - whose affordable luxury brands, which also include Claudie Pierlot, sell dresses in the 200 to 400 euro range - had doubled annual revenues in the past four years to 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion), with a rapid expansion of its shop network and after breaking into markets such as China.
Investors are on edge over signs Chinese shoppers might start spending less on high-end brands due to the Washington-Beijing trade spat, which has already hit their overseas purchases as the yuan falls.
Business in Hong Kong, for instance, a magnet for Chinese consumers, was “a little softer” as a result of currency swings, SMCP’s Chief Executive Daniel Lalonde said in an interview.
But he added that the group was still investing in mainland and greater China, which makes up the bulk of its sales in Asia Pacific, SMCP’s third-biggest region after its French home market and the rest of Europe.
“From our perspective, everything is still intact (in China). Any slowdown in our business is related to the comparison base (...) and we still expect to grow that market over 20 percent in 2019,” Lalonde said. “We’re still confident on the region.”
SMCP, controlled by Chinese retail group Shandong Ruyi , earlier on Monday reported a 8.1 percent increase in fourth-quarter sales at constant currencies, which came in at 276.1 million euros ($315 million), in line with forecasts.
Momentum in Asia Pacific slowed from the previous three months, but mainland China was particularly strong, the group said.
In France, SMCP had to shut some stores on successive Saturdays in November and early December along with its rivals due to anti-government “yellow vest” protests, costing the firm 4 million euros in lost revenue, Lalonde said.
Its French sales fell 1.9 percent at constant currencies in the fourth quarter, less than expected by some analysts and helped by a spike in online sales.
SMCP’s shares jumped more than 4 percent in early trading but were down 4 percent by 1218 GMT, with European shares more broadly in negative territory following underwhelming industrial data from China. ($1 = 0.8764 euros) (Reporting by Sarah White, editing by Louise Heavens)
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