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Strong Swiss Franc to Adversely Affect Richemont Profits

The currency — which has appreciated nearly 12.7 percent against the euro over the past year — will put negative pressure on margins.

LONDON — The supersized Swiss franc is set to take a bite out of Compagnie Financière Richemont’s net profits in the first half, despite sales gains of 29 percent in the initial five months and higher operating profit.

 

Johann Rupert, Richemont’s executive chairman and group chief executive officer, said Wednesday the currency — which has appreciated nearly 12.7 percent against the euro over the past year — would put negative pressure on margins.

 

“The stronger Swiss franc will continue to be negative for our cost of sales and operating expenses, maintaining negative pressure on our margins,” he said, adding that net profit for the period would be flat despite a higher operating profit.

 

The strong Swiss franc — which many investors view as the last safe haven amid spiraling debt crises on both sides of the Atlantic — also dented Richemont’s robust sales gains in all markets.

 

Sales at the company, whose brands include Cartier, IWC, Chloé and Dunhill, rose 29 percent in the first five months of the fiscal year to Aug. 31. At constant exchange rates, they rose 35 percent.

 

Full six-month sales and profit figures will be released Nov. 11.

 

Earlier this week, the Swiss National Bank took measures to deflate the franc, enforcing a minimum exchange rate of 1.20 francs to the euro. The bank branded the franc “massively overvalued,” and said it posed an “acute threat” to the Swiss economy.

 

Analysts, meanwhile, said there was little that Swiss luxury companies such as Richemont could do right now in the face of the pumped-up currency.

 

“Richemont can increase prices in local currencies in the U.S., the Eurozone and Asia — which they have been doing — but you can only do that into the high-single digits, like 8 or 9 percent,” said Antoine Belge, luxury goods analyst at HSBC. “But there’s no other way out: Watches have to be made in Switzerland, and Richemont has no intention of moving its headquarters out of the country. The good news, however, is that Richemont’s products are in high demand.”

 

In an upbeat report earlier in the day, Belge pointed out that Asia, which accounts for 41 percent of sales, not including tourist-related ones, grew at 59 percent in the five months at constant exchange rates.
Thomas Chauvet at Citi said the currency impact should subside in the second half. He said, “While the strong Swiss franc and the outperformance of Net-a-porter will impact gross margin negatively in the first half, the Swiss National Bank’s commitment to peg the euro-Swiss franc at 1.20 should limit currency-related downside risks to earnings for the remainder of the year.”

 

Richemont is battling more than a strong Swiss franc: Rupert said the rest of the year was difficult to predict because of other macro-economic issues.

 

The strongest performing region in the period was Asia-Pacific, which saw a 46 percent rise in sales at actual exchange rates compared with the first five months of last year. The company said there was “sustained” consumer confidence in the region and sales were further boosted by new investments in distribution networks.

 

The Americas posted 26 percent growth at actual rates, while sales in Europe rose 21 percent, reflecting purchases by local clients as well as tourists, the company said. Sales in Japan increased 7 percent despite the impact of the natural disasters there earlier this year.

 

Richemont’s jewelry brands saw a 34 percent rise in sales, while the watch brands rose 28 percent. Sales at the Montblanc brand rose 10 percent, while the “other” brands category, which includes Net-a-porter.com and Chloé, rose 24 percent.