Belle International Holdings is not only the largest retailer of women’s footwear in China. According to one source, this big company based in Shenzhen controls up to one-third of the booming Chinese retail market for sports footwear by running hundreds of stores trading under the names of Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Li-Ning, Kappa, Puma and Mizuno. It is also a major shoe producer with factories in Shenzhen and Dongguan.

The latest reports from Hong Kong indicate that the company began to take orders for the planned initial public offering from institutional investors on May 3, a process that should be completed on May 14. Belle’s 72-year-old founder and chairman, Tang Yiu, and three private equity funds, one of which is owned by Morgan Stanley, are selling 234.9 million existing shares and issuing about 1.16 million new shares at between HK$5.35 and HK$6.20 each, or a total of HK8.7 billion (€735m-$1.1bn), representing 17 percent of the total equity.

Such a range would value Belle at 27-31 times projected earnings for this year. The company’s net profit reached 976.6 million renmimbi (€93m-$126m) last year while its turnover jumped by 260 percent to RBM 6.2 billion (€590m-$800m), thanks to an acquisition in September 2005 that pushed the retail business to 66.5 percent of its total 2006 sales. At last count the company had a network of 3,828 shoe and sports shops in China.

The money raised through the IPO would be used to further expand this retail network as well as the production and warehousing. LVMH, the big Paris-based luxury goods group, made a sensation today with a report that it plans to invest some $30 million in Belle when it goes public on the Hong Kong stock exchange on May 23.

To our knowledge, at least two other major Chinese retailers involved in the booming sporting goods sector are making preparations to go public in the next few months.