By Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Puma <PUMG.DE> said it aims to reach the 3 billion euro ($4.36 billion) sales mark this year, earlier than expected, as it reported record first quarter sales driven by growth in the United States.
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Outgoing Chief Executive Jochen Zeitz said the group had also managed to increase sales in Japan in the quarter, one of its key markets, despite an earthquake and tsunami there.
Sales of 3 billion euros in 2011 would equate to an 11 percent rise, compared with the group's previous forecast for medium to high single-digit growth.
Shares in the group jumped 5.5 percent to 220 euros, their highest level since mid-February and making them the biggest mid-cap gainer in Germany <.MDAXI>.
Prior to the update, analysts had been expecting the group, the world's number 3 sporting goods maker after Nike <NKE.N> and Adidas <ADSGn.DE>, to report 2011 sales of about 2.9 billion euros, according to a Reuters poll.
"Puma managed to grow nicely again. The gross margin was kept stable, which we consider very positive," LBBW analyst Bernd Muell wrote in a note.
Puma, owned by French luxury group PPR <PRTP.PA>, is aiming to increase sales to 4 billion euros by 2015 under its 'Back on the Attack' strategy.
"Back on the Attack has delivered strong results, and that's despite Japan and without sales from a major sporting event," Zeitz told reporters.
"We are managing the situation well. Price increases will kick in from the fourth quarter," Zeitz said, confirming the company's target for mid-single digit growth in net earnings in 2011.
Sales for the three months to end-March rose 9 percent, adjusted for currency effects, to 773 million euros, while net earnings rose 7.1 percent to 77.7 million euros.
Analysts had been expecting first-quarter sales of 759 million euros and net earnings of 78.5 million, according to a Reuters poll.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Hans Peters)