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Watches of Switzerland mulls IPO

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Watches of Switzerland, Britain’s biggest seller of luxury timepieces, said it sees growth opportunities in the US, which it calls underdeveloped due to lack of investment.

Geneva

WATCHES of Switzerland Group Ltd, the UK's biggest seller of luxury timepieces, said it's considering an initial public offering in London that could help fuel expansion into the US market.

The move would allow private-equity company Apollo Global Management to reduce its stake in the retailer, which handles about half of Rolex's UK sales. It also could give impetus to the company's expansion in North America, where it has become the largest luxury watch seller in the south-eastern US.

"There are significant growth opportunities ahead of us, both in the UK and the US ," chief executive officer Brian Duffy said in a statement.

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Watches of Switzerland's sales have expanded at an average rate of 18 per cent over the past five years, outperforming most rivals as the biggest Swiss watchmakers increasingly try to eliminate their reliance on middlemen. Cartier, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin have found they can enjoy more of the profit themselves by selling timepieces in their own boutiques.

Watches of Switzerland is trying to carve out a bigger role for brands that still are interested in selling through third parties, and says it's got a technological edge over smaller independents.

The company's full-year revenue rose 9.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis to £773 million (S$1.37 billion). CEO Duffy said in January that an IPO was one option Apollo was considering after acquiring the retailer six years ago.

The offer would consist of new and existing shares, and Apollo plans to keep a controlling stake, the retailer said on Thursday. The company said it expects at least 25 per cent of its shares will be freely traded on the market.

While the bulk of the retailer's revenue comes from the UK, Watches of Switzerland said it sees growth opportunities in the US , which it calls underdeveloped due to lack of investment. It recently opened a store in the New York retail complex Hudson Yards. The company said it believes its newcomer status gives it an advantage in that market.

Barclays Bank Plc and Goldman Sachs are joint global coordinators. BNP Paribas and Investec Bank Plc would also be joint bookrunners.

NM Rothschild & Sons is advising the company on financial matters. BLOOMBERG