Hermes boosts dividend as luxury industry thrives

A couple walk with Hermes shopping bags as they leave a store in Paris. The luxury goods maker has reported a bumper year, buoyed by demand from China. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Hermes boosts dividend as luxury industry thrives

PARIS: French luxury goods maker Hermes, known for $10,000-plus leather handbags such as the Birkin, rewarded shareholders on Wednesday with a higher dividend and a one-off payout after a bumper year for sales and profits.
The company, originally a saddle and harness maker founded in 1837, joined luxury rivals such as Louis Vuitton-owner LVMH and Gucci-parent Kering in benefiting from a rebound in demand from Asian shoppers in 2017.
Hermes shares rose 3.2 percent in early trade after the firm proposed a dividend of €4.10 ($5.03) per share, up 9 percent on a year earlier, and said it also planned a special dividend of €5 per share.
It last made a one-off payout in 2015.
Hermes also reported a record operating margin for last year, reaching 34.6 percent of sales and helped by high productivity at its workshops and the positive impact of currency hedges in the first half of 2017.
“We had an exceptional year in 2017,” CEO Axel Dumas told a briefing with analysts.
Dumas said that hedging against foreign exchange swings would have a slightly negative effect on margins this year, adding these would likely “normalize.” European-based luxury goods firms are grappling with the effects of a stronger euro.
Stocks of Hermes products ran very low at the end of 2017 as items sold out, a situation that was also atypical and which boosted margins, the company said, without detailing a forecast for 2018.
Hermes’ operating margin was 32.6 percent in 2016.
Sales trends in early 2018 had continued the positive momentum of last year, Dumas added.
Hermes, which has long waiting lists for some of its most coveted handbags, is expanding production to keep up with demand, and plans two more leather goods workshops by 2020 in France.
Like peers, it is looking to boost online sales, though it declined to detail how much revenue came from the web. Hermes is rolling out a revamped version of its website, due shortly in Europe after launching in the US and Canada.
By the end of the year, it also plans to set up its first e-commerce site in China, the biggest market for luxury players. Italy’s Gucci and France’s Louis Vuitton launched web sales platforms in China last year.
Hermes’ 2017 operating income was €1.92 billion ($2.36 billion), up 13 percent from a year earlier and in line with analyst forecasts, while net profit rose 11 percent to €1.22 billion.


Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala halts Abraaj investment deal talks

Updated 1 min 40 sec ago
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Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala halts Abraaj investment deal talks

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi state investor Mubadala has halted talks to buy Abraaj’s investment business, two sources said, in a blow to the private equity firm which is facing an investigation by investors into how it used some of their money.
Dubai-based Abraaj, which denies any wrongdoing, is considering selling some or all of the unit following a row with four investors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, over how it used their money in a $1 billion health care fund.
Mubadala, which has more than $200 billion in assets, and Abraaj held initial talks a month ago, but these did not progress, one of the sources said.
Abraaj said it does not comment on market speculation, while Mubadala declined to comment on Monday.
“We remain focused on working collaboratively with our investors and continuing to execute on the re-organization of our firm to pave the way for continued long-term growth and value creation,” Abraaj said in an email to Reuters.
Investment banks have also approached international private equity firms to look at Abraaj’s investment arm, but some are holding off until after an investigation by forensic accounting experts Ankura Consulting, which has been commissioned by the investors, two other sources said.
Other potential buyers include Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG), sources said last month.
ADFG, which manages $6.5 billion in assets, declined to comment about its interest in Abraaj’s investment business. The Gates Foundation and the IFC, the World Bank’s private finance arm, have both declined to comment on the row.
SHAKE-UP
The fund dispute, which erupted this year has jolted Abraaj, a top investor in the developing world founded in 2002 by Arif Naqvi, who in late February handed the running of the fund to two co-chief executives.
Abraaj has also shaken up its management, suspended new investments, freed up large investors from millions of dollars in capital commitments and is reviewing its corporate structure.
It was managing $13.6 billion before deciding to return $3 billion to investors and putting a new $6 billion fund on hold.
Naqvi remains CEO of Abraaj Holdings, a significant shareholder of Abraaj Investment Management Ltd, the fund management business. Sources say he has spoken to senior bankers about various options for the firm, although Abraaj has not formally hired an adviser to sell the business.