MILAN — Shares in luxury notebook maker Moleskine rose in their market debut in Milan on Wednesday, defying broad market weakness in this year’s first major stock listing in crisis-hit Italy.

The maker of notebooks based on originals used by Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin is the first company to join the main Milan stock market since the listing of cashmere brand Brunello Cucinelli nearly a year ago.

Shares in Moleskine rose nearly 3% in early trading, outperforming Italy’s broad share index, which was down 0.5%, underlining investor interest in brands that appeal to style-conscious consumers.

Moleskine was up 0.17% early on Wednesday to €2.31 from the €2.30 price the company had set for its €488m ($626.5m) initial public offering (IPO). The Milan-based firm was valued at a discount to exclusive names such as Prada, but in line with luxury brands with strong margins and growth in foreign markets.

"We are better than the average of luxury makers in terms of profitability," CE Arrigo Berni said at the market launch ceremony at Milan’s stock exchange.

Founded in 1997, the firm makes its thread-bound jotters in Asia, with a margin on sales of 43%.

Moleskine is the fourth upscale Italian brand to tap the stock market in under two years, following the IPOs of Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Cucinelli.

Mr Berni said he expected "significant" growth in coming years as Moleskine develops apps and other digital products for a growing number of smartphone users and opens its first stores in China. "We are not like Rolex, which makes exclusivity and price an integral part of its appeal," Mr Berni said.

Moleskine sells 90% of its €15 notebooks outside Italy, which is struggling with a deep recession and is stuck in political limbo after inconclusive elections.

"I hear the concerns that Italy doesn’t have a government," said Raffaele Jerusalmi, CEO of Italian stock exchange Borsa Italiana, adding that the listing was a sign of confidence. "It is even more important to have a market flotation at this moment of uncertainty."

Moleskine offered 106.3-million shares, including 12-million new ones, meaning just more than 50% of the company’s shares are now traded on the market. Demand for the shares has come from investors in Italy, Britain, elsewhere in Europe, the US and Asia. The offer was 90% reserved to institutional investors.

Private equity funds Syntegra Capital and Index Ventures, alongside founder Francesco Franceschi and management, will pocket most of the €244m generated by the sale. Moleskine has seen growth of about 25% per year since Syntegra bought 75% for about €60m in 2006.

The company had revenues of €78m last year.

Moleskine’s debut comes on the heels of Countrywide’s strong launch in London two weeks ago, which saw the UK’s biggest estate agency by revenues sell its equity at the top of its price range.

"I think you have to bear in mind the broader market context – equities, especially in Italy, have been trading a little bit softer over the past few weeks," Ronan Carr, equity strategist at Morgan Stanley, told the Financial Times on Wednesday.

"While developed markets overall have been fairly resilient we have had some negative news in terms of the global growth outlook and political risk in Italy, for example," Mr Carr said.

Moleskine, whose products also include leather covers for tablets and writing tools, said the remaining proceeds from the capital increase would be used to halve debt to €12m, while retail growth would be funded through cash generation.

Reuters