Cartier maker Richemont's full-year profit plunges 67%

The Swiss luxury watch and jewellery company is gloomy about economic prospects for the next three years

FILE PHOTO: A Cartier logo, part of Richemont luxury group, is pictured on a shop window next to the Louis Vuitton store in Geneva, Switzerland, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Richemont, the world's second-biggest luxury group, reported a 67 per cent fall in annual profit on Friday and said the impact of the coronavirus could last up to three years despite signs of recovery in China.

Net profit for the year to the end of March fell to €931 million (Dh3.7 billion), missing the €1.29bn expected by analysts. Sales rose 2 per cent to €14.238bn, in line with estimates.

The Swiss company, which makes Cartier, Piaget, IWC and Vacheron Constantin watches, said its results this year would be weighed down by the epidemic, with shops closed down and consumer sentiment subdued.

Chairman Johann Rupert said other countries would probably find it difficult to follow China, the first country hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, and return to normal.

"No one can say when we will see economic activity normalise," Mr Rupert said. "We may be looking at 12, 24 or 36 months of grave economic consequences.

"Perhaps that is too pessimistic but who knows?" he said after the company proposed to halve its dividend to preserve cash though it is considering a warrant scheme to compensate shareholders.

Economic development is key for luxury companies as people tend to buy expensive watches and jewellery when they feel good about the future.

Mr Rupert, who is known for his downbeat economic views, likened the outbreak to a "tsunami which moves from east to west".

During the three months to March 31, the company's sales fell 18 per cent, hurt by the pandemic.

It has reacted by reducing production at its watch and jewellery plants and the proposed lower shareholder payout.

The company said its profit fall also reflected the non-recurrence of a €1.4bn post-tax accounting gain it had last year. Excluding this, profit fell 34 per cent.

Its shares were 2 per cent lower in early trading.

Richemont's watch brands bore the brunt of the downturn, with operating profit falling 20 per cent and sales down 4 per cent, although Mr Rupert said the downturn also reflected the company's attempts not to flood the market.

Jewellery was more resilient, with sales up 2 per cent and operating profit falling 7 per cent, as customers bought necklaces, rings and other pieces as stores of value.

One bright spot was Richemont being able to reopen its 462 boutiques in China, which were now seeing strong demand.

But Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said the situation was likely to deteriorate in the coming months.

"Mainland China is rebounding, but half of the Chinese buying of luxury goods is when they travel abroad and they are not travelling," he said. "Europe and North America remain mostly closed. The next couple of months are going to be far worse than the final quarter of this year."

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