PARIS (Reuters) - France's Pernod Ricard PERP.PA said on Thursday it may raise prices on spirits like Glenlivet Scotch whisky to counter U.S. trade tariffs, at a time when it is also grappling with decelerating growth rates in key markets like China and India.
The owner of Mumm champagne, Absolut vodka and Martell cognac posted a steeper-than-expected slowdown in first quarter revenue on weakness in emerging markets and duty-free travel retail, triggering a 3% fall in its share price.
The company, which flagged a “particularly uncertain environment”, maintained its full-year profit forecast, however, even when taking into account the impact of U.S. trade tariffs.
It is under pressure from U.S. hedge fund Elliott, which holds a 2.5% stake, to improve profit margins and corporate governance.
European wine and spirit exporters will be hit from Oct. 18 by duties intended by President Donald Trump’s administration as punishment for illegal EU aircraft subsidies.
Many are now considering how they can raise prices and remain competitive in the United States. The tariffs, approved by the World Trade Organization, include 25% duties on goods ranging from French wine to Scotch whisky.
Although Pernod Ricard benefited from a share price bounce when it emerged the list excluded blended whiskies, cognac and champagne, the tariff hit will be “significant” in the U.S., even though it is limited to single malt Scotch and Spanish wine, Chief Executive Alexandre Ricard told Reuters.
The group could raise prices to make up for the higher duties, which will hit brands such as Glenlivet and Campo Viejo Spanish wine, he said.
Finance Chief Helene de Tissot told analysts on Thursday that U.S. tariff risk also “remains a factor” over the longer term as it is not possible to exclude future changes in the list of products targeted.
FIRST QUARTER MISS
In August, Pernod Ricard, the world's second-biggest spirits group behind Diageo DGE.L, indicated it expected a relatively soft first quarter, citing a very high year-ago comparison basis in Asia.
For the first quarter ended Sept. 30, Pernod reported sales of 2.483 billion euros ($2.75 billion), a like-for-like rise of 1.3%.
That compared with a growth rate of 10.4% in the year-ago quarter and missed analysts expectations of 3.3 % growth.
“Q1 appears to have missed on travel retail, down 6%, with most other main markets in line with expectations” said JP Morgan analysts in a note.
Sales growth was 6% in China, compared to 27% in the year-ago quarter, with a notable decline in Chivas whisky sales due to challenging market conditions including the closure of some night clubs.
Martell cognac sales in China benefited from a price rise but sustainable inventory management weighed on volumes, Pernod said.
Its United States arm fared better, making a good start and delivering 6% sales growth in the first quarter.
In February, Pernod vowed to lift its margins and shareholder returns under a three-year strategic plan that Elliott has described as a first small step.
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Sarah White and Kirsten Donovan
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