Cuban cigar maker eyes 25-30 pct of U.S. market if embargo lifted

lunes 23 de febrero de 2015 14:32 GYT

HAVANA Feb 23 (Reuters) - Cuban cigar-maker Habanos S.A. envisions gaining 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market if the United States lifts its trade embargo on Cuba, potentially selling 70 million to 90 million cigars per year, the company said on Monday.

Habanos S.A., a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban state and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC., generated sales of $439 million in 2014 without direct access to the U.S. market. The company is also the monopoly guarantor of Cuba's signature export.

The prospect of the United States lifting its 53-year-old embargo improved after the United States and Cuba announced on Dec. 17 their intention to restore diplomatic relations.

In regulations published since then the United States now allows American travelers to Cuba to legally bring back up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol for personal use, which Habanos S.A. said would have an immediate impact on its sales in Cuba.

With time Habanos S.A. would expect to capture 70 percent of the U.S. market, similar to the market share it has elsewhere in the world, company executives told reporters at the start of Cuba's annual cigar festival.

"We estimate that in the first years we could have a market share between 25 and 30 percent, and some might consider that figure a little conservative," said Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique, commercial vice-president for Habanos S.A. "But I can tell you that with that figure, 25 percent, we would be the market leaders." (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)