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Most cats are pretty long in the tooth when they are 12 years old. Puma's current incarnation as a premium, sports-influenced apparel brand dates from 1993, when Jochen Zeitz became chief executive.

The once-dull sports shoe manufacturer now collaborates with über-cool designers such as Philippe Starck and pushes products through branded boutiques.

Earnings per share are up 13-fold since 2000. But trendy young cats eventually succumb to old age. Solid first quarter results for 2005 were overshadowed by a weaker backlog in Europe, which provides two thirds of sales.

Fears of slower growth have knocked Puma's shares down 15 per cent from last October's all-time peak of €220. It now trades at a 17 per cent discount to its peers on a 2006 price/earnings multiple.

This looks overdone. Puma's basic strategy works: more than two thirds of sportswear is sold for looks rather than performance. The brand, revitalised in the footwear business, has been successfully extended into clothing and accessories. Dizzy growth will inevitably slow, but expected free cash flow of €1.3bn over the next five years provides the platform for the next phase of Puma's development.

Buying out some of its licensed distributors in Asia would help it capture the full benefits of its fastest growing market. But external acquisitions prior to consolidating control over the core brand would unnerve investors. Thankfully, the management's track record suggests Puma can remain cool while growing old gracefully.

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