Apax Partners, the investment fund which backed Alain Afflelou's costly acquisition of Carrefour's optical retail operations in France and Spain, has sold a 5.97 percent stake in France's largest franchisor on the open market. Meanwhile, Afflelou reports a 3.0 percent decline to €10.6 million in net profit after goodwill amortization for the 6-month period ended last Sept. 30.

Before goodwill, which is largely related to that costly investment, its net profit increased by 12.7 percent to €11.2 million, producing a nice net margin of 21.9 percent against 17.4 percent. The operating profit (Ebit) declined by 1.5 percent to €12.9 million, but it would have increased by 9 percent if the group had not incurred certain non-recurrent charges.

Total revenues declined by 10.4 percent to €57.6 million, due exclusively to the resale of certain corporate stores that previously belonged to Carrefour Optique. Revenues from franchising jumped by 25.7 percent to €46.1 million, thanks in part to the continued market penetration of its exclusive products, which now represent about 33 percent of the franchisees' purchases through Afflelou.

On a comparable store basis, the group's sales increased by 17 percent during the period. On the same basis, those of the franchisees began to accelerate during the 3rd quarter. They grew by 0.7 in October, by 7 percent in November and by about 10 percent in December. In Spain, same-store sales recorded a 21 percent increase in the 1st half and they soared by 30 percent in November and by 69 percent in December.

A total of 20 new stores joined Afflelou's network during the first 6 months of its fiscal year, including three new ones in Spain. The 10 Plurielles stores opened so far have shown generally encouraging results, but Afflelou has not yet drawn its conclusions on the future potential of this new format.