March 12, 2020 / 4:16 PM / 18 days ago

Italy's Autogrill scraps dividend as it braces for further fallout from coronavirus

MILAN, March 12 (Reuters) - Italy's Autogrill, which operates restaurants at airports, motorways and rail stations, said on Thursday it was cancelling its annual dividend because the spreading coronavirus outbreak made its outlook too unpredictable.

Trading in shares of Autogrill were automatically halted on the Milan stock exchange after they plunged 18.2% on Thursday on a range of factors, including the growing health crisis in Italy due to the coronavirus and U.S. President Donald Trump's curbs on travel from Europe.

Autogrill said the impact of the virus had reduced its revenue by 25 million-30 million euros ($33 million) since the beginning of the year through the first week of March.

"This outbreak is evolving rapidly and the potential developments are extremely hard to predict," the Milan-based group said, adding it would wait for more clarity before giving a guidance on 2020 results.

The group reported underlying core earnings of 463 million euros for 2019, at the top-end of its full-year guidance but said it would not pay a dividend for 2019. For 2018, it paid a dividend of 0.20 euro per share.

Its shares were halted at 4.07 euros, their lowest level in nearly seven years. Milan's benchmark index was down 14% in late trade.

Autogrill shares have lost more than half of their value since Feb. 20 when the virus began spreading in Italy and quickly turned into Europe's worst coronavirus crisis so far, prompting the government this week to ban all non-essential travel and order a shutdown of cafes, bars and restaurants.

"We put in place several initiatives to counteract the impact of this outbreak on revenues and profitability, including management of opening hours, store labour optimisation and general & administrative (expense) control," Autogrill CEO Gianmario Tondato Da Ruos said in a statement. ($1 = 0.9016 euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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