Alwaleed-backed AccorHotels closes in on property deal

AccorHotels sale of a stake in its property business is in its final stages, Europe’s largest hotel company said on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Alwaleed-backed AccorHotels closes in on property deal

PARIS: AccorHotels’ long-delayed sale of a stake in its property business is in its final stages, Europe’s largest hotel company said on Wednesday, after reporting record 2017 earnings.
The French group, with more than 4,000 hotels ranging from luxury Sofitels to the budget Ibis brand, also expressed confidence over prospects for this year and over potential returns to investors once the property deal is sealed.
There was initial disappointment over the absence of any concrete developments on the plans for outside investment in property unit AccorInvest — known as “Booster” by the company — as well as the lack of increase in the annual dividend.
But the shares recovered early losses to trade up 2.6 percent at 1055 GMT, as analysts welcomed the prospect of better returns for investors. The stock is up about 8 percent in 2018.
AccorHotels has said the stake sale, now delayed by more than six months, will give it greater financial leeway to accelerate growth and fight the rising challenges from companies such as Airbnb and online travel agents.
CEO Sebastien Bazin said it was “a matter of weeks” before a deal was sealed, while finance chief Jean-Jacques Morin said the group would adjust its dividend policy after the sale and hinted at a possible special dividend.
“Overall, an upbeat message with confidence around deal execution, RevPar (revenues per available room) and encouraging comments regarding the future cash return potential,” wrote Barclays analysts, who have an “overweight” rating on the stock.
AccorHotels, which competes with InterContinental, Marriott and Starwood, beat forecasts with a 10 percent rise in like-for-like operating profit to 492 million euros ($606 million) for 2017.
InterContinental, which focuses on business customers, also reported higher profits this week and unveiled plans to expand further in the upmarket part of the hotel industry.
AccorHotels has struck deals in areas such as concierge services and luxury rentals to try to combat competition from the likes of Airbnb and Expedia.
Bazin reiterated on a call to analysts and reporters that strong growth was expected from these new lines of business over the medium term.
The only region where AccorHotels did not have strong growth last year was South America and in particular Brazil, which is slowly emerging from a recession, although the company said trends in Brazil improved in the fourth quarter.
Bazin, who took over in August 2013, has been cutting costs and expanding in China and the luxury hotels market, with AccorHotels having bought FRHI Holdings, the owner of London’s Savoy and New York’s Plaza hotels.
In October, AccorHotels also clinched a deal to buy Mantra Group Ltd. for A$1.18 billion ($926 million) to create the biggest hotel group in Australia. Bazin said he expected to finalize the deal during the second quarter of 2018.
Kingdom Holding, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s investment company, has a 5.71 percent stake in AccorHotels. The prince was released last month from detention following an anti-corruption crackdown.
Asked if there had been any signs of a possible change in the prince’s shareholding, Bazin said: “We have been comforted on the fact that there was no change in governance, shareholding. Prince Alwaleeed is and remains the third-largest shareholder of this group.”


‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

Updated 20 September 2018
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‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

  • Trump highlights US security role in region
  • Comments come ahead of oil producers meeting in Algeria

LONDON: US president Donald Trump urged OPEC to lower crude prices on Thursday while reminding Mideast oil exporters of US security support.
He made his remarks on Twitter ahead of a keenly awaited meeting of OPEC countries and its allies in Algiers this weekend as pressure mounts on them to prevent a spike in prices caused by the reimposition of oil sanctions on Iran.
“We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices!” he tweeted.
“We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!”
Despite the threat, the group and its allies are unlikely to agree to an official increase in output, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing OPEC sources.
In June they agreed to increase production by about one million barrels per day (bpd). That decision was was spurred by a recovery in oil prices, in part caused by OPEC and its partners agreeing to lower production since 2017.
Known as OPEC+, the group of oil producers which includes Russia are due to meet on Sunday in Algiers to look at how to allocate the additional one million bpd within its quote a framework.
OPEC sources told Reuters that there was no immediate plan for any official action as such a move would require OPEC to hold what it calls an extraordinary meeting, which is not on the table.
Oil prices slipped after Trumps remarks, with Brent crude shedding 40 cents to $79 a barrel in early afternoon trade in London while US light crude was unchanged at about $71.12.
Brent had been trading at around $80 on expectations that global supplies would come under pressure from the introduction of US sanctions on Iranian crude exports on Nov. 4.
Some countries has already started to halt imports from Tehran ahead of that deadline, leading analysts to speculate about how much spare capacity there is in the Middle East to compensate for the loss of Iranian exports as well as how much of that spare capacity can be easily brought online after years of under-investment in the industry.
Analysts expect oil to trend higher and through the $80 barrier as the deadline for US sanctions approaches.
“Brent is definitely fighting the $80 line, wanting to break above,” said SEB Markets chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop, Reuters reported. “But this is likely going to break very soon.”