Wednesday 23 October 2019

Diageo's global trade caution strikes a note with Irish firms

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes told investors he is wary of global threats on the horizon. Photo: Bloomberg
Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes told investors he is wary of global threats on the horizon. Photo: Bloomberg

Samantha McCuaghren

Diageo, the maker of two of Ireland's best-known exports - Guinness and Baileys - gave us a reminder last week of the complicated times we live in.

Chief executive Ivan Menezes was happy to report there had been a good start to the year but warned that the good times might not roll forever.

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"We would not be immune from significant changes to global trade policy and continue to monitor this closely," he told investors.

Irish companies are weighing up these very same possibilities and, while Brexit may be front of mind, the way in which global trade tensions play out could also have significant implications for the fortunes of very many Irish companies.

Accountancy watchdog the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (Iaasa) has given Ireland's listed companies a timely reminder of this in recent days.

While all may be going well at the moment, these companies need to do their best to make shareholders aware of the often conflicting forces at play in the economy.

Giving advice on best practice for financial reporting in 2019, it said that public companies continue to be faced with the "challenge of incorporating medium and long-term forecasts into their financial statements in a climate of mixed economic signals."

For example, in June the Irish Fiscal Council commented that the Irish economy still appears to be growing very fast.

"Forecasts assume that the recent momentum in the domestic economy will only gradually moderate and they incorporate a reasonably strong outlook for Ireland's main trading partners," it said in its fiscal assessment report.

But the Central Bank's quarterly report in July struck a far more cautious note, commenting that "...there are material domestic and external risks…" and that, Brexit aside, "risks in relation to international trade and taxation persist".

Iaasa said that companies "face unknown economic, political and social threats and uncertainties because of Brexit and heightened protectionist policies, particularly in the USA which continues to be Ireland's largest export market".

The advice is aimed at companies whose financial year ends in late December or afterwards.

Perhaps all will be clear by year end, although this seems doubtful.

In any case, companies will need to monitor the constantly changing situation as closely as possible.

"Against this continuing uncertainty, issuers must closely monitor and consider the financial reporting consequences that Brexit arrangements will have on their future financial performance, financial position, cash flows and forecasts," the body warned.

As Iaasa and Diageo have flagged, the future is hazy for many businesses, and not just for listed companies.

The current economic party may be a lot more subdued than the last one but everyone knows it has to end sometime.

Hopefully we learnt some lessons from the last time and won't be left nursing a financial hangover.

Child's play for Smyths Toys - but not for everyone

Good to see the Smyths Toys story continues to be a firm favourite with children.

Accounts from the media shy Galway-based company saw its UK sales jump 22pc to £581.57m (€656m) last year.

The boost was mirrored in its pre-tax profits, which increased by 22pc to £14.5m (€16.3m).

It really has made its entry into the UK look like child's play. The company entered the UK market in 2007 and now has 100 stores there.

More stores are on the way there in the likes of Aylesbury, Portsmouth and Basingstoke in the south-east and Solihull in the west Midlands. These, and a handful more, will open over the next few weeks ahead of that all-important Christmas rush.

Variations of Lego, LOL Dolls and innovative new Harry Potter toys are all expected to be big this year.

Smyths has also begun expanding into central Europe, having completed the rebranding of the Toys R Us businesses it acquired there.

Smyths is a great success story but Irish retailers have enjoyed mixed fortunes on their international expansion travels.

Dunnes Stores retreated from its bricks and mortar expansion in Britain, closing its last few shops in spring of last year. Dunnes doesn't explain itself to the media, but locally the exit from Englan and Scotland was put down to Brexit.

Another low-profile but highly successful Irish retailer is Home Store & More. The company behind it, Ogalas, is now unlimited so does not publish accounts. However its last accounts in 2014 showed revenues of €78.7m and profits of €7.6m.

The homeware company, whose backers include managing director Jonathan Stanley, is quietly expanding into the UK as well.

It has two shops in Scotland and I hear it is looking for a couple more.

Sunday Indo Business

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