Italian fashion group Prada's sales and profits rebounded at the end of last year from a first-half slump due to the coronavirus pandemic, boosted by a strong performance in China and elsewhere in Asia, and the positive trend has carried on into 2021. Luxury fashion companies have been hit hard by the impact of the crisis on tourism and travel, but an improving backdrop in China, one of the world's biggest luxury markets, has helped some companies to bounce back. Milan-based Prada, famous for its luxury bags and clothes, also benefited from a surge in online sales. The pandemic has accelerated the luxury goods industry's move towards digital sales. Prada's e-commerce sales more than tripled in 2020 versus 2019 levels, the Hong Kong-listed company said. Last year, Prada launched e-commerce in new key markets and revamped the Prada website. "We are just at the beginning of our growth trajectory and there is still a huge potential to unlock," said marketing head Lorenzo Bertelli, son of Prada's founders Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, who are co-CEOs. CEO Patrizio Bertelli said: "We have 130 stores that are still closed due to the pandemic and group's performance in early 2021 is quite good anyway. That give us confidence to face the upcoming rebound, as soon as the most critical phase of the pandemic will end." The first months of 2021 have seen a slight growth in sales compared with the early part of 2020 and are up from 2019 levels, CFO Alessandra Cozzani said conference call after the group's results were published on Wednesday. CEO Bertelli said Prada had responded quickly to market changes, strengthening the relationship with local customers whose consumption in the second half of the year almost fully offset the absence of tourists. "All of these initiatives led to a full recovery in the second half to pre-pandemic profitability levels," he said in a statement. The recovery in retail sales, which account for around 90% of Prada's total, was driven in the second half by mainland China (+52%), Taiwan (+61%), Korea (+22%) and also by the Americas (+4%). Japan and Europe suffered from the lack of tourists and prolonged lockdowns. Full-year revenues fell by 24% to 2.42 billion euros ($2.9 billion) thanks to an improvement in the second half after a 40% slump in the first six months. Lockdown measures to stem the spread of coronavirus led to around 18% of the group's store network being closed on average during the year and the restrictions also hit tourism. Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) totalled 20 million euros in the full-year, following a 216 million euro EBIT in the second half, broadly in line with the same period of 2019, after a 196 million euros operating loss in the first six months. Analysts had expected revenues at 2.44 billion euros and an EBIT of 13.8 million, based on a Refinitiv analyst consensus. Analysts did not expected any dividends, but Prada's board decided on a 0.035 euros per share payment after skipping any dividend payout last year. ($1 = 0.8411 euros) REUTERS
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