July 14, 2020 / 5:40 AM / 24 days ago

Swatch Group sales almost halve, posts net loss in first half

FILE PHOTO: A closed shop of Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch is seen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on the Bahnhofstrasse shopping street in Zurich, Switzerland April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swatch Group (UHR.S) said it expected sales and profits to improve quickly in the coming months after the COVID-19 pandemic led it to post a net loss in the first half of the year.

Swiss watchmakers have seen their sales slide as the pandemic led to store closures, first in Asia then in Europe and the United States, and Chinese tourists, their most important customers, could not travel and shop.

Sales fell 46.1% to 2.2 billion Swiss francs (1.86 billion pounds) in the first half of 2020, the maker of Omega timepieces said in a statement released without advance notice on Tuesday.

It posted a net loss of 308 million Swiss francs, after a net profit of 415 million francs in the year-ago period.

The company said it 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.

It said it expected a strong second half with a positive operating result for the full year. It closed around 260 stores in the first half and reduced headcount by 6.5% since December to save costs.

The company had already cut its dividend for 2019 and board members’ fixed pay for this year due to the difficult situation.

Last month, it appointed new heads for two of its most important brands, Longines and Tissot.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Michelle Martin and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

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