July 21, 2020 / 6:09 AM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 2-Lockdown cocktails soften virus blow for Remy Cointreau

* Sees H1 core earnings down 35-40% vs down 45-50% before

* Q1 underlying sales down 33% vs forecast down 43%

* More drinking at home, but travel retail collapses (Adds detail from conference call)

By Sarah Morland

July 21 (Reuters) - First-half earnings at Remy Cointreau will fall less than feared as a rise in cocktail drinking at home helps to offset a collapse in demand from travel retail and events in the coronavirus pandemic, the premium spirits maker said on Monday.

The maker of Remy Martin cognac and Cointreau liqueur said underlying sales plunged 33% in the three months ended June 30.

But that was better than analysts' average forecast for a 43% drop, as some drinkers in Britain, Germany and the United States in particular sought to liven up their coronavirus lockdowns by mixing drinks at home.

Cointreau's margarita cocktail, which combines the orange liqueur with tequila and lime juice, was a particular hit in the United States, the French company said.

It now expects core earnings for the six months ended Sept. 30 to fall 35-40%, compared with a drop of 45-50% previously.

While U.S. and Asian wholesalers cut inventories and travel retail collapsed in the first quarter, Remy also said its deluxe CLUB cognac and single-malt whiskies performed well in China.

Finance chief Luca Marotta flagged strong investment in the coming quarters, notably in Cointreau liqueur and branding.

"We need a strong rebound," he said, as the company forecast double-digit growth in China and the United States for the current quarter.

Analysts at Bryan Garnier, however, pointed to the weakness in travel retail and warned cash-strapped consumers could trade down from premium brands as economies suffer deep recessions.

In the first quarter, House of Remy Martin - which makes the group's high-end Louis XIII and Remy Martin cognacs and last year brought in the bulk of sales - was the worst hit, while its liqueurs and spirits division proved more resilient.

The company, whose upscale spirits can cost thousands of dollars per bottle with custom engravings, plans further price hikes in the autumn as it moves upmarket. (Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Mark Potter)

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