April 18, 2019 / 7:20 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Pernod CEO: in regular and "courteous" talks with Elliott

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By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis

PARIS, April 18 (Reuters) - Drinks group Pernod Ricard is having regular and "courteous" talks with activist investor Elliott, although it is not necessarily meeting Elliott any more than it would with any other regular shareholder, the head of Pernod told Reuters.

"There is a regular dialogue between the teams, but we do not see them more than other shareholders. My ambition remains to deliver on our strategic plan, that's my motto," CEO Alexandre Ricard said in a telephone interview.

Pernod, which is the world's second-biggest spirits group behind Diageo, is under pressure from New York hedge fund Elliott Management to improve profit margins and corporate governance.

In February, Pernod vowed to lift its margins and shareholder returns under a three-year plan that Elliott described as a first small step.

When asked about speculation that Pernod could sell the whole or part of its wine business, Ricard replied: "Pernod Ricard has the firm intention to continue to actively manage its portfolio, in terms of either selling or buying."

Last month Bloomberg reported Pernod was considering the sale of its wine division, which includes Australian brand Jacob's Creek and Spain's Campo Viejo and makes roughly 5 percent of group sales.

Ricard, whose company makes Havana Club rum in Cuba, added he was "not worried" about Pernod's business in Cuba, despite latest moves by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.

The Trump administration is lifting a long-standing ban against U.S. citizens filing lawsuits against foreign companies that use properties seized by Cuba’s Communist government since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

The major policy shift, which the State Department said could draw hundreds of thousands of legal claims worth tens of billion of dollars, is intended to intensify pressure on Havana at a time Washington is demanding an end to Cuban support for Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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