Fashion retailer Esprit loss in line with forecast

Fashion retailer Esprit shuttered 91 stores in the six months to December and recorded a loss of HK$1.773 billion (US$225.876 million).

While the loss is massive, it is within the estimates Esprit provided at an investor presentation last November when it unveiled its rescue strategy for the embattled Hong Kong-listed brand.

The 91 stores closed during the fiscal half year come on top of another 50 in the half year preceding it. More closures are to come as the company trims its network to meet falling consumer demand for its range and save on rent.

Esprit’s revenue for the half year fell to $6.766 billion, down 14.4 per cent in local currency terms, due to fewer stores and “reduced customer traffic across the distribution channels due to the weakness in brand identity and product appeal,” the company said in a stock exchange filing.

The company’s share price fell from $2.04 to $1.83 (US 23 cents) as the results were released, before recovering a little this morning despite the results being inline with the company’s forecasts last November.

Esprit “has a clear strategy plan in place setting forth bold changes to build a powerful organisation and restructure the cost base and develop a new model for the future,” the company reiterated in its filing. That plan includes becoming a leaner and more efficient organisation, eliminating loss-making areas of the business, sharpening the Esprit brand identity and putting the customer at the centre of everything the group does, and

improving the product offer and its relevance to consumers.

“The execution of the strategy plan is progressing well and is on track. While the group is encouraged by the initial progress and [has] a committed team in place to see the execution through, it is important to appreciate that it will take time to see this translate into a positive business performance, as most initiatives are still at this stage a work-in-progress and it will require time to make the corresponding improvements in brand and product visible to our customers for attracting them back into Esprit stores.”

Included in that process is the reduction of between 35 and 40 per cent of non-store employees, already completed in Asia and on track in Europe.

Meanwhile, the company said that while revenues continued to decline in the first half, the rate of decline is slowing. In the three months to September, sales in local currencies fell by 16.2 per cent, while in the following three months, sales fell by 12.5 per cent.

Asia Pacific – comprising mainly China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Macau, Thailand, India and the Philippines – accounted for just 10.4 per cent of the group’s total revenue, or $698 million. That was down 26.6 per cent, in part affected by the closure of the Australia and New Zealand Esprit businesses last year.

Transition period

Esprit says it expects the next two years to be a period of transition for the company and its brands

“Revenue is expected to see further decline in the next two financial years due to closure of loss-making stores, before reverting to growth to be driven by impact from product and brand initiatives. Overall, the group expects revenue to increase at a compound annual growth rate of a mid-to-high single-digit percentage in local currency between FY19/20 and FY23/24.”

It reiterated its earlier forecast of breaking even in two to three years time.

A “low double-digit” decline in topline sales is expected in the second half of the current financial year.

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