Qatar-backed Tiffany & Co told to pay $448m to rival Swatch

Dutch arbitration court decision comes after a hearing over a failed joint venture
Qatar-backed Tiffany & Co told to pay $448m to rival Swatch
By Reuters
Mon 23 Dec 2013 03:30 PM

Tiffany & Co, the US luxury jewellery retailer in which the Qatar Investment Authority owns an 8.7 percent stake, said a Dutch arbitration court ruled that it must pay rival Swatch Group 402m Swiss francs ($448.79m) in damages.

The payment is related to a failed joint venture to produce and market watches, forcing the New York-based firm to slash its profit outlook for the year.

Swatch, the world's largest watchmaker, and Tiffany, a New York-based jeweller, had struck an agreement in 2007 to develop watches under the Tiffany brand together.

The arrangement, intended to last for 20 years and give Tiffany a much bigger place in the luxury watch market, never turned into big business for either company, and the deal ended in acrimony in 2011.

The companies sued one another in arbitration court in the Netherlands, where their Tiffany Watch Co joint venture was domiciled. The case went to arbitration in 2012.

Michael Kowalski, the chief executive of the luxury retailer, said in a statement that he was "shocked and extremely disappointed" with the court ruling, issued on Friday, and that the company was reviewing its options.

In their lawsuits, Swatch Group had faulted Tiffany for "systematic efforts to block and delay development of the business," while Tiffany had said that Swatch did not honour the terms of the agreement, including providing adequate distribution.

Kowalski said Tiffany had sufficient financial resources to pay the full amount of damages. Tiffany said it would fund the award from immediately available cash on hand and funds from existing debt facilities, and that it didn't expect the ruling to impact its short or long-term business plans.

For Tiffany, the dissolution of the deal with Swatch was a huge setback in its efforts to once again be a big player in the world of luxury watches.

The company only gets about 1 percent of sales from watches now, compared to about 9 percent in the late 1980s. That shrank as the company decided to focus more on its engagement jewellery business.

Kowalski said in a statement on Sunday that Tiffany is moving forward with its plans to design, produce, market and distribute its own Tiffany & Co brand watches.

Tiffany's said it would record a fourth-quarter charge of $295m to $305m as a result of the ruling. It lowered its full-year earnings outlook range to $2.30 a share to $2.35 a share from a previous estimate of $3.65 a share to $3.75 a share.

According to a regulatory filing in February, the Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, increased its stake in Tiffany & Co to 8.7 percent at the end of 2012. It previously held a 7.8 percent stake.

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