By  on March 25, 2005

PARIS — Swatch Group, the world’s largest watchmaker, reported a 4.1 percent hike in annual net income on Wednesday and said sales had started strong this year.

The Swiss firm, which operates the Swatch, Longines, Rado, Leon Hatot and Omega brands, among others, said net consolidated income climbed to 512 million Swiss francs, or $412.4 million. Dollar figures are at the average exchange rate.

The results were short of analysts’ expectations. Swatch said adverse currency exchange translations hurt second-half profits and sales.

In a note to investors, Antoine Belge, analyst at CCF in Paris, said he had expected net profit to grow 8 percent to 529 million Swiss francs, or $426.1 million.

Swatch said 2005 had started on a “very positive” note, adding that sales through January and February had reached “record levels.”

Operating profit and net income in the first two months was also “significantly higher,” Swatch said.

Swatch expects to give more indications for the rest of the year after orders are taken at the important watch and jewelry show in Basel, Switzerland, which opens next week.

Meanwhile, Swatch said it would buy back 250 million Swiss francs, or $201.4 million, worth of its own shares.

Full-year sales at Swatch gained 4.7 percent to 4.15 billion Swiss francs, or $3.34 billion.

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