Inditex's Earnings Growth Slows to Weakest in Five Years

(Bloomberg) -- Inditex SA fell the most in 2019 after the Spanish owner of the Zara apparel chain reported the weakest earnings growth in five years, showing it’s not immune to the retail malaise that has burdened rival Hennes & Mauritz AB.

Even a more generous dividend policy unveiled Wednesday failed to stem the decline. The shares fell as much as 6.1 percent, cutting the gain so far this year to 12 percent.

Even though Inditex’s quick-reaction business model gives it an edge over rivals in adapting to changes in consumer demand or economic trends, the Zara owner still came under pressure from increased competition. Its sales were hit during the Christmas season when H&M dropped prices to as little as $9.99 for sweaters in an attempt to clear inventory. That kept Chief Executive Officer Pablo Isla from reaching his goal of second-half like-for-like sales growth of 4 percent to 6 percent.

The results are “evidence that the group’s growth profile is slowing sharply,” wrote Geoff Ruddell, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Operating profit rose 1 percent to 4.36 billion euros ($4.9 billion) in the 12 months through January. Analysts expected 4.41 billion euros. The company is cutting capital expenditure to about 1.4 billion euros this year from 1.5 billion euros last year.

Inditex’s new policy is to pay out 60 percent of profit in ordinary dividends, up from 50 percent previously. Investors will also get bonus payments through 2021.

Ortega’s Boon

The biggest beneficiary of the retailer’s new dividend policy will be founder Amancio Ortega, who owns a controlling stake in the company. Ortega is the world’s sixth-richest man, with a fortune estimated at $66.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

One of Inditex’s main bets is the expansion of online sales to all global markets by next year. E-commerce revenue rose 27 percent to 3.2 billion euros last year. Zara will launch an online platform in Brazil this month.

The fact that Inditex missed its guidance for the second half may lead investors to question Wednesday’s forecast that sales will rise within the same range this year on a like-for-like basis, wrote Michelle Wilson, an analyst at Berenberg.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.