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Lululemon Athletica Inc. shares soared about 53 per cent in debut trading in New York and Toronto, suggesting robust investor demand for the trendy yoga-wear retailer.

The shares jumped to $27.61 (U.S.) in Nasdaq trading after the stock was priced at $18 a share, with almost 10 million shares changing hands. The $327.6-million it raised through its initial public offering was much higher than anticipated.

Shares in the Vancouver-based retailer closed at $29.72 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The chain of 59 stores had planned to raise about $200-million in the offering, with new investors having a 26-per-cent stake. The company had mulled reducing the size of its IPO but this week decided to keep the offering at 18.2 million shares.

"We believe that Lululemon shares represent a unique opportunity to participate in a very early stage, apparel growth story," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin in a note.

He initiated coverage on the stock Friday with an "outperform" rating and a target prices of $23 - well above the initial price but below where it stands currently.

The company wants to use some of the money raised to expand, with plans to open as many as 25 stores this year and up to 35 more in 2008 in the United States and Canada.

Shares were prices at $18 a share, higher than the $15 to $17 it had anticipated in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this week. That's much higher than an earlier estimate of $10 to $12 a share - despite a marked downturn in stock markets this week.

In Toronto, the stock traded at $28.80 (Canadian) under the symbol "LLL."

It also traded on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol "LULU." For Friday alone, however, it's trading on Nasdaq under the symbol "LULUV" because the expected closing date for the offering is not until Aug. 2.

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Of the total shares, about 2.3 million are being offered by Lululemon and 15.9 million are being offered by selling stockholders. Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. are serving as joint book runners.

Chip Wilson founded the company in Vancouver in 1998 and sales hit $149-million in its last fiscal year.

Mr. Wilson is expected to have 38.2 per cent of the voting power in outstanding stock after the IPO, while Advent International is expected to control between 23.2 per cent and 26.3 per cent.

With files from Canadian Press.

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