* Panama will be H&M’s 7th market in Latin America
* H&M focusing new store openings to growth markets
* H&M seen returning to profit growth in 2020 (Adds company comment, background)
By Anna Ringstrom
STOCKHOLM, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The world’s second-biggest fashion retailer H&M said on Friday it would open a first store in Panama at the end of 2020, making the country its first Central American market.
An H&M spokesman said the store would initially not be accompanied by an online store, and there were no concrete plans currently to expand to other Central American countries.
H&M, which has 51 online markets and stores in 74 markets currently - including Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay in Latin America - said in a statement it would operate in Panama through a franchise agreement with Hola Moda S.A.
H&M, which has the bulk of its business in Europe, has seen profits shrink for years amid slowing sales at its core H&M brand’s physical stores in established markets, and is now focusing new store openings to growth markets.
Analysts predict a return to profit growth in 2020 as sales recover on the back of strategy tweaks and heavy investment to adapt to the rapid digitalisation of retail that has brought new competition and changing shopping patterns.
H&M is due to publish full-year 2019 results on Jan. 30. (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Alex Richardson)