Foreign firms say UK profits hit by Brexit vote, weak sterling

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Tue, Oct 18, 2016 22:04 hrs
Storm clouds are seen above Canary Wharf financial district in London

By Tom Bergin

LONDON (Reuters) - The drop in sterling and some weakening in demand following the vote to leave the European Union have eaten into the earnings of foreign firms operating in Britain, companies have been saying as they reveal their third quarter results this month.

Firms including carmaker Ford, technology group HP Inc, Ryanair and Delta Air Lines Inc, said Britain’s vote to leave the EU, or Brexit, was forcing them to reassess profit targets, plan additional cost cuts, increase prices in Britain and curtail operations.

Large listed firms are beginning to report profits for the July to September period -- the first full quarter’s earnings since Britain’s June 23 referendum on EU membership, which sent the value of sterling to a record low against a basket of currencies.

While many domestic-focused British companies have reported resilient earnings since the Brexit vote, foreign companies are suffering because the profits they make in the UK are now worth much less in dollars or euros.

“Translating sterling back into their own currency is a negative,” said Ian Williams, Economist & Strategist at Peel Hunt stockbrokers in London.

He added that if companies believed the drop would persist, it could prompt them to freeze or cut investments in Britain: “The question is whether they want to maintain the degree of exposure to the UK that they have done historically."

India’s Tata Consulting, which offers outsourcing services to UK companies, told investors last week that earnings were suffering after a drop in the value of the pound from 95 to 81 rupees.

Toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker said it revised its estimate of currency impacts to reflect the weaker pound and U.S. Toymaker Hasbro Inc, which manufactures Disney character dolls, told investors on Monday it faced a $25 million hit from currency headwinds -- primarily due to the UK pound -- in the fourth quarter.

Irish budget airline Ryanair cut its forecast for its profit growth this year to 7 percent from 12 percent on Tuesday citing the weaker pound.

EXPORTERS HIT TOO

The weak pound has been celebrated as a boon for exporters, whose sterling-based costs are reduced relative to their foreign-currency revenues. But even foreign companies with export-orientated manufacturing operations in the UK have been hit.

Carmaker Ford which has engine-making plants in Dagenham and Bridgend said last month that currency and GDP weakness following Brexit would weigh on European earnings.

“Brexit we think in the short term, [will hit Ford’s margins by] a couple hundred million dollars this year,” Jim Farley vice president for Europe, Middle East & Africa said at an investor presentation.

“We think it's going to be more like $600 million next year,” he added.

Many foreign companies echoed comments from UK businesses which said they saw no major fall-off in demand from consumers post-Brexit. Yet some foreign companies selling to other businesses said they felt customers were now more hesitant to make big ticket purchases.

“There is a sense of anxiety and that is still obviously continuing,” Vishal Sikka, CEO of outsourcing group Infosys Ltd. said on an investor call. Tata said it also saw weaker growth than it had expected before Brexit.

PRICING POWER

Many foreign companies said they aimed to offset the lower value of sterling by charging their customers more. Peel Hunt’s Williams said the biggest Brexit losers would be those companies without the power to push through price increases.

Luxury goods maker LVMH said it had increased UK prices by 5 percent twice this year, without any drop in demand. Ford said it had increased prices by 1.3 percent, helped by the fact that rivals Peugeot and Renault had done likewise.

But even then, Ford said it only expects “some of that Brexit headwind” to be offset by this.

Companies said they were also responding by intensified cost-cutting.

“Given the continued headwinds due to competition, foreign currency and market sizing, we are driving another set of productivity improvements in fiscal 2017,” Cathie Lesjak HP Inc’s chief financial officer told investors last week.

A few are scaling back operations. Delta Air Lines said it was cutting capacity on Transatlantic routes.

But for now, companies downplayed any imminent plans to slash UK investment and relocate plants or people to other countries.

Most said they were waiting to see the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU and what kind of access to the single market the UK will enjoy in future.

“We've developed plans based upon various scenarios and we are going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds to know what we are going to do,” Paul Donofrio, chief financial officer of Bank of America, said on Monday.

(Reporting by Tom Bergin; editing by Peter Graff)



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