Rodenstock became profitable again last year, raising its sales of lenses and frames by about 3 percent, according to preliminary figures, with most of the growth achieved in export markets. Further improvements in sales and profits are expected in 2003. Lenses and frames represent about 80 and 20 percent of the company's overall sales, respectively, and together they account from more than 85 percent of the total turnover, which amounted to e368 million in 2001.

These scores confirm the fact that Rodenstock doesn't really need a new financial partner, except to make investments in various aspects of its business that could speed up its expansion, without waiting for a public offering in a few years' time. Talks have been held with various interested parties and a decision will likely by the end of the 2nd quarter of this year. Randolf Rodenstock would prefer to sell only a minority stake to a financial investor, but as indicated in the last issue of EyeWear Intelligence, alternatives are not excluded.

More than 50 companies have received Rodenstock's prospectus and several of them have expressed an interest in the discussions. The company continues to withhold comments about a possible partnership with major lens manufacturers like Essilor or Hoya, but such a tie-up would seem unlikely, as it would probably antagonize several opticians and raise a possible challenge by German anti-trust authorities.

In 2001, Rodenstock had a 30.0 percent market share in the German market for eyeglass lenses in terms of value, as compared to 20.5 percent for Zeiss, 17.5 percent for Essilor and 12.3 percent for Hoya. Essilor has made no secret of its interest in acquiring Rodenstock, but aside from the anti-trust problem, its recent policy of getting out of the frames business is in stark opposition with Rodenstock's integrated approach.