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Pernod Ricard fears over poll

PIERRE Pringuet, chief executive of spirits giant Pernod Ricard, has warned of the fragility of the Scotch whisky industry's global presence as the company plans for September's independence referendum.

Pernod owns a number of Scotland's biggest whisky brands including Chivas Regal, Ballantine's and Glenlivet.

Mr Pringuet said: "Scotch whisky is a global industry which is also very fragile."

He cited problems caused for the industry by a sudden change in tax rules in Thailand to favour domestic drinks.

"The world is getting more and more global," he added."One should keep that in mind."

Pernod is anxious the Scotch whisky industry retains its clout in international organisations such as the European Union, whether the country votes "yes" or "no" in the independence ballot.

Laurent Lacassagne, chief executive of Pernod's whisky arm Chivas Brothers said of the referendum: "We believe it is a question for the Scottish people.

"We do not think we are in the best position as a French company - French people - to express a view on the vote itself.

"On the business side, we are preparing ourselves and we are working with our industry body the Scotch Whisky Association to seek clarity on a number of matters."

The comments from Pernod come after SWA chief executive David Frost last week highlighted the "impact, access and attention" that being part of the UK gives the industry.

But he stopped short of expressing a firm view on independence.

There have been several interventions by business leaders recently with BP chief executive Bob Dudley warning of "big uncertainties", while Phil Loney, chief executive of Scottish Life owner Royal London, said the company would regard Scotland as a foreign country in the event of independence.

Pernod saw sales of its key Scotch whisky brands dip 4% in the first half of the financial year as a result of the company's exposure to the slowing Chinese market.

It noted that the decline of Scotch whiskies had slowed over the period although Chivas, Ballantine's and Royal Salute were still seeing falls.

Mr Lacassagne said: "There is a kind of paradox here.

"While our current environment is a little bit challenging, I believe the long term view for the Scotch whisky industry has never been stronger than it is today."

Pernod had expected sales in China, its second biggest country market, to pick up through the first six months of 2014.

It now suggests that the projected upturn is unlikely to occur until later in the calendar year.

It downgraded full-year forecasts of net profit growth from recurring operations to between 1% and 3%.

It had expected 4% to 5% when it reported first quarter results in October.

Mr Pringuet indicated that he was relaxed about the threat from the sale of Whyte & Mackay by arch rival Diageo, which has been demanded by the competition authorities.

"It doesn't prevent me from sleeping well," he said.

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