Pearle Europe continues its shopping spree with the acquisition of a 100 percent stake in MultiOpticas, the leading optical retail chain in Portugal with 30 company-owned stores and 106 franchised outlets. Pearle says MultiOpticas plans to open more stores and to raise the number of its franchises in the country.

The former majority shareholder in the Portuguese chain was MultiOpticas Internacional, which continues to control similar chains in Chile and Peru under the MultiOpticas and GMO Optics banners. The majority of the shares in MultiOpticas Internacional is held by the retail members of MultiOpticas Sociedad Cooperativa, a buying group that represents the major factor in the Spanish market, with a total of abut 375 affiliated stores.

The new investment raises to more than 500 million euros the annual sales volume of Pearle Europe through a network of more than 900 stores. The Dutch-based company also operates 270 stores in the Benelux countries under the Pearle Opticiens name, 290 stores and numerous concessions in Germany under the Apollo Optik banner, 62 Pearle Optikwelt stores in Austria, and 32 stores in Italy through Avanzi. Earlier this month, Pearle Benelux took over the 120 optical and hearing-aid retail shops of Groeneveld Beheer in Holland, which operate under the Groeneveld Opticiens and Schoonenberg Hoortoestellen banners, following Groeneveld's acquisition by HAL Investments, the holding company in Rotterdam which owns 67.6 percent of Pearle Europe.

HAL strengthened its involvement in international optical retailing last year by raising from 15.6 to 19.7 percent its own stake in Cole National, the US-based optical retail group that holds a 21 percent stake in Pearle Europe. Members of the management own about 11 percent of Pearle Europe's shares. HAL has reported a consolidated net profit of e197.1 million for the year 2000 on net sales of e922.3 million, with associated companies contributing earnings of e93.1 million. These results marked a major improvement from a 1999 net profit of e133.5 million on sales of e6564.4 million, with earnings of e33.7 million from associated firms. At their annual meeting last week, HAL's shareholders abolished all differences in voting rights between ordinary and Class B shares.