Watches of Switzerland shares jump on trading debut

hares in Watches of Switzerland rose as much as 17 per cent on their first day of trading after the group priced them towards the upper end of the published range.

By late morning on Thursday the stock was trading at 307p, giving the luxury time piece retailer a market capitalisation of £735m. Earlier in the day the shares rose as high as 315p.

The group set its IPO price at 270p per share, near the higher end of the 250-277p range that it had previously targeted. Brian Duffy, chief executive of Watches of Switzerland, said he was “delighted” by the reaction from investors.

Mr Duffy said that the £155m raised from selling new shares would be used, along with new banking facilities, to redeem a £265m bond. Private equity group Apollo Global Management also sold £220m worth of shares in the offering, resulting in a free float of around 34 per cent.

Watches of Switzerland has spent the past few years investing around £60m in its store estate and pushing into the US market, which Mr Duffy described as “fragmented and dominated by smaller players who cannot fund the kind of investment in stores that we can”.

Last year, the US generated 23 per cent of sales, with the UK accounting for the rest. In addition to its flagship luxury showrooms, it owns the Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths chains in the UK and the Mayors chain in Florida.

Online sales are around 5 per cent of the group total and growing rapidly, though Mr Duffy cautioned that Rolex’s policy of not selling online would inevitably limit that growth. One in every two Rolex watches bought in the UK comes from a Watches of Switzerland store.

“This is not a sector that is going to transition online in any realistic time horizon. People still like the service we offer and they want to see a timepiece on their wrist, to see if it is everything they thought it would be,” he said, adding that the average value of each sale last year was over £4,000.

The group had revenues of £746m in the 12 months to January 27. It held a 35 per cent share of the fast-growing UK luxury watch market by total value of sales in 2018.