UPDATE 2-Swatch Group suffers its first half-year loss, hopeful for rebound

(Adds CEO, analyst quotes, shares, detail)

ZURICH, July 14 (Reuters) - Swatch Group, the world’s biggest watchmaker, reported its first ever half-year loss on Tuesday but founder and CEO Nick Hayek said he looked forward to a quick rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Swiss watchmakers have seen their sales slide due to store closures around the world and as Chinese tourists, their most important customers, could not travel and shop.

Swatch suffered a net loss of 308 million Swiss francs ($327 million) in the first half of 2020 on sales down 46.1% to 2.2 billion Swiss francs, the maker of Omega timepieces said in a statement released without advance notice.

Its shares, down 28% this year, were up 1.7% at 198.8 francs at 0720 GMT.

“We are really looking forward to a very good second half of the year that will bring the group again into profitability,” CEO Hayek said in a recorded video message.

He said the company had returned to a positive operating result in June and was seeing very high demand in markets which had come out of lockdown, including double-digit sales growth in mainland China in May and June.

He said, however, that there were nearly no sales in Hong Kong at the moment due to political unrest and sales in the United States in July were still down 20-25%.

Vontobel analyst Rene Weber said in a note the group had lost market share and he expected negative growth in the second half.

Swatch Group closed around 260 stores and has reduced headcount by 6.5% since December.

The cancellation of big events such as the Olympic Games which the company sponsors helped save costs.

Swatch had already cut its dividend for 2019 and board members’ fixed pay for this year.

$1 = 0.9407 Swiss francs Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz Editing by Michelle Martin and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi