July 29, 2020 / 9:32 AM / 15 days ago

Smurfit Kappa reinstates dividend as trading improves in July

DUBLIN, July 29 (Reuters) - Smurfit Kappa will resume dividend payments after a brief coronavirus-related break and a 13% year-on-year fall in first-half earnings, it said on Wednesday, sending shares in Europe’s largest paper packaging producer 5% higher.

Like many companies, Smurfit withdrew its plan to pay a final dividend at the height of the pandemic in Europe in April. It will now pay the 80.9 euro cents per share, then a 12% year-on-year increase, as an interim dividend in September.

The Irish group’s core earnings fell to 735 million euros ($864 million), partly due to lower box prices. That was still its second best ever first-half result, chief executive Tony Smurfit said, noting trade in July was ahead of expectations.

“In particular July volumes on the industrial side of our businesses have been stronger than we would have anticipated even a month ago. I don’t know if that’s just one month as people get back to work and refill stock or is that a real trend,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Smurfit Kappa is comfortable with the 15% dip in full-year earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) forecast by analysts polled by Refinitiv, he added.

The company’s London-listed shares were 5.6% higher at 2,618 pence by 0845 GMT.

Smurfit said the likely sustained rise in online shopping, kick-started by the pandemic, was very good for its packaging, opening up avenue streams on top of an “explosion” in demand for more sustainable ways of packing products.

The group, whose clients include Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble, is also confident of weathering any coronavirus second waves in the 35 countries where it operates.

“About 75% of our businesses is in FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) type products, even more than that with hygiene products. You could say close to 80% of our businesses really depends on people surviving and eating,” Smurfit said.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to be needed.”

$1 = 0.8511 euros Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Potter

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