Thai Optical Group, one of the world's largest independent manufacturers and distributors of optical lenses, began trading on the Bangkok Stock Exchange last May 16, floating 68 million new shares that represent 17 percent of its equity. The initial offer, which was underwritten by Aynolhaya Securities, was oversubscribed. After trading at a price of between 2.76 and 2.94 baht a share, the stock closed on the first day at 2.80 baht, the same as the introduction price, giving TOG a valuation of 1.12million baht (€0.02m-$0.03m).

The company reportedly had net profit of 23.7 million baht (€0.49m-$0.62m) in the 1st quarter of 2006, up from 21 million baht in the same period a year ago when its revenues were of 261 million baht (€5.3m-$6.8m). Revenue figures for the latest quarter could not be obtained at press time. TOG suffered from some casting problems in 2005, which were held responsible for a decline in its net profit margin to less than 6 percent, but company executives are predicting that it will go back to its historical level of 10 percent as of this year.

The Pracharktam family, which retains a 70.79 percent stake in TOG, wanted the company to go public already last Septemeber to take advantage of new government incentives, including a decline in the income tax rate from 30 to 25 percent for the next five years, and to attract new managers and new clients through greater accountability. To qualify for the public offering it had to shed part of its capital to 30 other shareholders. One of them was Rudolf Suter, the Swiss industry veteran, who has been supplying TOG with advanced progressive molds.

The proceeds of the initial public offering will be spent on the acquisition of land and machinery, particularly for a fourth production line being established, and to pay back loans. TOG intends to move more and more into specialty lenses such as free-form progressives.

The company exports about 93 percent of its production, and the balance represents about 30 percent of the entire Thai ophthalmic market. It has been in operation for more than 50 years, starting out with its own retail shops in Thailand and then adding the wholesale distribution and lens finishing business. It has been surfacing mineral lenses for 35 years in behalf of some big European manufacturers, and it is still doing so to a small extent. About 15 years later it began casting single-vision and bifocal molded lenses. A big user of CR-39, it was one of the world's first casters to adopt PPG's new Trivex monomer.

TOG's big strength lies in its relatively low labor costs, coupled with the ability to ship semi-finished blanks and finished lenses by overnight airfreight to major destinations such as Paris or Amsterdam, ensuring deliveries to certain customers in only four days. It has a rather stable workforce of about 2,000 people at three factories in Thailand.

The company's OEM laboratory handles about 2,000 jobs per day, surfacing some 30 million pieces a year for clients worldwide. It began to use free-form technology one and a half years ago, using machinery from Opto-Tech. In 1997 TOG set up Poly Sun, which supplies 200-250,000 polarized sun lenses a year out of the same premises, as a joint venture with Eugenio Collavini, a former manager of Intercast Europe.