Swatch cuts 2,400 jobs, trims store network

ZURICH • Swatch Group AG cut 2,400 jobs, a record cull, and trimmed its store network as the Swiss watchmaker became unprofitable for the first time.

The maker of Omega and Longines timepieces said it accelerated plans to shut stores permanently in Hong Kong, as well as shops that sell its colourful namesake brand and Calvin Klein timepieces. Sales in the six months through June plummeted 43%.

In a break with its strategy during previous crises such as the 2009 financial downturn, Swatch is leaning more on slashing jobs. CEO Nick Hayek said during hard times, the problem with cutting jobs is it’s difficult to find qualified staff when the market rebounds. It appears this year is different.

“Winston Churchill said, ‘never waste a good crisis,’ and that’s exactly what we’re going to do, especially in the second half of the year (2H20),” Hayek said in prepared video remarks yesterday.

The job cuts were predominantly at the shops, as Swatch held on to production workers. The company closed 260 stores and now has about 1,800.

The stock was little changed after a 2.7% gain in early trading. Analysts applauded how inventory remained stable despite the drop in sales.

The CEO said Swatch expects a profit this year as countries ease lockdown measures, shops reopen and travel resumes. The company’s 1H20 operating loss of 327 million francs (RM1.48 billion) was twice as big as analysts expected.

In the 2H, Swatch plans to introduce new products, including James Bond Omega timepieces and a Tissot smartwatch.

Swatch announced the end of its 22-year-old contract to sell Calvin Klein watches in October, and many of the closures were related to that decision, Hayek said. The company’s plastic namesake brand is also reducing its reliance on brick-and-mortar stores and will rely more on e-commerce.

The company will be shutting further stores going forward as it focuses more on online growth, according to Bank Vontobel AG analyst Rene Weber.

“A big step has been made, but it will be ongoing,” Weber said. The Swatch brand alone had more than 500 stores at the end of last year.

Swatch forecast that the industry would recover quickly as consumers catch up on shopping after lockdowns, as seen in China and Korea. The month of June already was profitable, thanks to pent-up demand in mainland China, where sales rose at a double-digit rate in May and June.

Still, only about half of its employees in Switzerland have returned to work full-time. Some 6,000 employees were on short-time work on average last week, while about 2,500 were taking unused vacation or reducing overtime, according to chief controlling officer Peter Steiger. The company expects the partial unemployment measures to end in the third quarter, when manufacturing will return to full capacity.

The company had to shut 80% of its sales outlets around the world during the peak of the lockdowns. Its own stores have recovered faster than third-party retailers as measures eased. — Bloomberg