Gatto Astucci has denied a rumor in the Italian press that Centrobanca, an Italian investment bank, is about to acquire a majority stake in the company. The Italian producer of eyewear cases, based in the Veneto region, says it is simply negotiating with various private equity firms and merchant banks to obtain extra funds to finance major investments, chiefly in export markets where the company is targeting strong growth in sales and profits.

Centrobanca is just one of the banks the company has made contact with. Indicating that any transaction will not be concluded before the end of the 1st quarter of 2007, officials of Gatto Astucci say that no decision has been taken on this or any other investors. Observers noted that Centrobanca's attitude until now has been to acquire a majority stake in a company.

With sales of €43 million forecast for 2006 - a 30 percent increase year on year - Gatto remains the 2nd largest player in the sector of spectacle cases worldwide, behind Fedon, which expects to report sales of around €56 million for 2006, roughly in line with last year's performance. The holding company that controls Gatto expects to report a doubling in pre-tax profits. On a consolidated basis, including the results of the group's various production and distribution subsidiaries, it is expected to show pre-tax profits up by 30 percent to €3-4 million.

As for Fedon, heavy investments to develop its Fedon 1919 leathergoods division have produced strong growth in sales with the result that leathergoods now represent 8-9 percent of its total turnover. The company is further developing its retail activities in this sector with the recent opening of a store in New York's Rockefeller Center, after openings in Milan and Paris.

Eyewear cases remain nonetheless Fedon's core business with production growing by 20 percent in 2006 and topping the 50-million mark for the first time, as compared to 40 million units for Gatto Astucci. However, competition from the emerging markets has forced average prices to go down for both companies.

For Fedon, this has resulted in more or less flat overall revenues for this year. No projections have been made so far on profits, after a year that has seen heavy investments on production capacities. Fedon's Romanian plant now turns out 40-45,000 units a day, double its previous production level, while the group's Chinese plant produces 50,000 units per day. Fedon outsources one-quarter of its production. Gatto Astucci produces in Croatia and China. Both companies have production facilities in Italy.

Meanwihile Vincenzo Sabbadin has left Fedon to return to the sporting goods business, where he occupied important posts at Benetton SportSystem and Rossignol. He ran the leathergoods business unit of Fedon for a while, and then he developed its recently acquired optical merchandising unit, Expoplay, for its adaptation to the sporting goods sector.