Bottom Line: Confidence is a luxury at Dunhill

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The Independent Online
IF DUNHILL shareholders were still hoping for an improvement in the terms they are being offered as part of the restructuring of the company and Rothmans International, yesterday's bleak trading statement is likely to have put paid to it.

Although Dunhill prefers not to describe the pounds 19m adverse impact from currency hedging as a loss, foregoing the profits that would have flowed from the strengthening of the yen amounts to pretty much the same thing. It also made no bones about the poor state of the key Japanese market so, despite an unexpected gain on government bonds, profits this year could be down by as much as a quarter.

Only time will tell if the picture really is as bleak as it is being painted. In the meantime, shareholders have to decide whether they are likely to be better off combined with Cartier and Piaget as part of Vendome.

Joseph Kanoui, who will be its chairman and chief executive, is convinced that trading down is only a problem for those upstart brands that climbed onto the luxury bandwagon during the 1980s. By contrast, Vendome's shareholders will continue to reap the benefit of its investment and determination to maintain quality and exclusivity. Until there is evidence that luxury is back in favour, however, believing such claims is more an act of faith than a rational investment decision.

If that is true for Vendome, it is even more so for an independent Dunhill, whose management has proved less than effective at managing the international growth of the brand. Shareholders may be being offered an effective multiple of only around 14, compared with 18 for Vendome, but they are getting access to real premium brands.

For Rothmans, the key question is how the market will rate it in its new form. While the much-vaunted potential of Eastern Europe and China remains unrealised it is likely to be rated more as a commodity stock than a growth one. Its promise of a more generous dividend policy also makes it more likely that the market will focus on yield. Based on a pro forma dividend of 15.65p gross, an above-average 4 per cent yield would put it on 391p. Coincidentally, that is exactly the effective post-restructuring price based on yesterday's close of 651p, down 10p.

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