May 19, 2020 / 7:22 AM / 14 days ago

UPDATE 1-Hearing aid maker Sonova's annual profit tops estimates

(Adds details, CEO comments from call)

May 19 (Reuters) - Sonova, the world's biggest hearing aid maker, reported better-than-expected annual core earnings on Tuesday and said some customers were returning to European stores, where lockdown measures are being eased.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit hearing aid makers worldwide as many of their customers are over 70 and isolating at home to avoid catching COVID-19, the flu-like infection caused by the virus.

Switzerland's Sonova has cut working hours, frozen hiring, suspended a share buyback program, proposed a share dividend instead of a cash dividend and is tapping further sources of liquidity to cope with the fall in business.

The measures helped the group's full-year earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) rise 4.5% to 620.8 million Swiss francs ($638.68 million), against consensus expectations of 609.7 million francs.

"We are benefiting from government subsidies in one in ten countries - fortunately, in the largest ones, where we have a significant employee base," Chief Executive Arnd Kaldowski told Reuters.

Despite seeing some customers returning to stores in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, the company did not provide an outlook for 2020/2021.

Kaldowski said it was difficult to say what percentage of all customers would be encouraged enough to come back in the first three months after the lockdown.

$1 = 0.9720 Swiss francs Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska in Gdansk, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Carmel Crimmins

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