Zara owner Inditex plans to keep up the pace of expansion in China and strengthen its global online business as the Spanish home market becomes ever less important for the world's largest clothing retailer.
"We see that continuing for a few years," Capital Markets Director Marcos Lopez told Reuters yesterday after Inditex posted a 27pc rise in nine-month net profit to the end of October.
Inditex still makes 20pc of its sales in Spain, but customers are being squeezed by the second recession in three years with one-in-four workers jobless.
Inditex said it would not put up prices in response to the rise in value added tax from September, potentially affecting profitability.
Meanwhile, Inditex has already opened 72 stores in China in the nine-month period – bringing its total there at the end of October to 347 and helping to lift net profit to €1.65bn.
"The combination of accelerated store openings in the higher-growth Asian and emerging markets and the rollout of the group's online capability should continue to deliver GDP-plus Inditex like-for-like sales growth," said Citi in a note.
China's upper middle class, with average household earnings of $40,000 a year, could grow by 2020 to 280 million people – nearly six times Spain's current population, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Inditex opened 360 stores globally in the nine-month period, increasing sales by 17pc to €11.4bn.
Without the debt of many Spanish companies, Inditex has fared better than many rivals in the downturn and analysts widely believe it has taken market share locally from more expensive brands and independent stores forced to shut.
Lopez said Spanish market share was as high as 12pc for its eight brands, ranging from flagship Zara to teen brand Bershka.
A production model that can turn designs from sketchbook to store within a fortnight has given it another edge.
Core profit – or earnings before taxes, interest, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) – rose 25oc to €2.78bn.
Inditex trades at 23 times forecast 2012 earnings compared with rivals H&M (HMb.ST) at 19 times and GAP at 12. (Reuters)