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Renault Looks to Cut Costs After Slashing Dividend, Posting Loss

Angelina Rascouet

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Renault SA moved to reassure investors by dangling the prospect of cost cuts and assets sales after posting its first annual loss in a decade and slashing its payout to shareholders.

The French carmaker, suffering from slumping sales in key markets and a dismal performance at partner Nissan Motor Co., will conduct a review of its Chinese assets and explore plant closures to rein in costs, acting Chief Executive Officer Clotilde Delbos told reporters at a press conference near Paris Friday.

“Considering the situation of the global market and considering that we maybe had too much capacity for volume goals that were higher than what we have today, we don’t exclude any taboo, whether in the world or in France,” Delbos said.

The stock rose as much as 4% following her remarks, more than reversing its earlier plunge to a seven-year low in the wake of the carmaker’s disappointing annual results.

Renault and Nissan, linked in an uneasy alliance for the past two decades, have been dogged by infighting and instability since the arrest of former leader Carlos Ghosn 15 months ago. While Renault last month picked former Volkswagen AG executive Luca de Meo as its new CEO, he doesn’t start until July.

In the meantime, Renault will press ahead with a plan to trim structural costs by at least 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) over three years, Delbos said, adding the company doesn’t have the “luxury” of waiting for De Meo’s arrival.

Nissan Impact

Nissan’s decision to scrap its year-end dividend represented a big financial hit for Renault, which owns 43% of the Japanese carmaker. The French company will cut its own payout by more than two-thirds to 1.10 euros a share, the lowest level since 2011.

Renault lowered its guidance for 2019 revenue and profit in October, saying weakening economies weighed on car sales in key markets while tougher rules on emissions pushed up costs. A deteriorating performance at Nissan has also hit results. Its contribution to Renault’s results plunged to 242 million euros last year from 1.51 billion euros the year before.

Read more: Nissan Is Worth Less Than Subaru After Shares Plummet

When De Meo takes the helm, he’ll join Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard in trying to shore up Renault’s at times acrimonious relationship with Nissan. Sorting out their differences is crucial as automakers face the costly and uncertain transition to electric vehicles.

For 2020, the carmaker sees annual revenue in line with 2019, leaving aside currency swings, and a group operating margin of between 3% and 4%. It also forecasts positive automotive operating free cash flow before restructuring expenses, while adding that expected volatility in Europe in light of new emissions rules and the potential impact of the coronavirus cloud the outlook.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says:

Renault’s guidance for 2020 is disappointing and below our expectations, with a 25% cut in consensus operating profit estimates needed to meet the midpoint of new 3-4% margin guidance vs. the 4.8% in-line result in 2019. The 70% cut in Renault’s dividend is less of a surprise after Nissan cut its dividend to zero. Indeed, Renault pays out the whole dividend received from Nissan to shareholders that amounted to 86% of Renault’s dividend last year.

-- Michael Dean, BI automotive analyst

The coronavirus outbreak, centered in the key Chinese auto-making region of Hubei, forced Renault to halt production at a Korean plant for four days this week, and more stoppages are possible -- even at European plants -- because of parts shortages, Delbos said.

“The problem is we have no visibility, and I don’t think anybody has any visibility, of the real impact,” she said.

Get more:

See statementFY revenue 55.5 billion euros vs 55.4 billion-euro estimateFY group operating margin 4.8% vs 6.3% in 2018FY positive automotive operational free cash flow 153 million eurosRenault books a 753 million-euro charge related to the discontinuation of the recognition of deferred tax assets on tax losses in FranceFY net income group share falls to loss of 141 million euros vs profit of 3.3 billion euros in 2018

--With assistance from Caroline Connan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angelina Rascouet in London at arascouet1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net, Frank Connelly, Andrew Noël

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