By Sonya Dowsett
LA CORUNA, Spain (Reuters) - Cash-rich Inditex, owner of fashion chain Zara, reported a squeeze on its margins in the three months to the end of January because of currency effects and a later launch of spring and summer collections.
"We think this is mainly due to currency mix, a delay in the start of the Spring collection to the first quarter and lower full price sales than expected in the second half of the fourth quarter," he said.
Inditex is vulnerable to foreign exchange rates as it reports in euros yet makes around half its sales in other currencies.
Its shares fell to a three-year low last month after analysts cut their price targets due to the effects of a strong euro, which has strengthened against most global currencies since the beginning of the year.
The stock was leading losses on Spain's blue-chip stock index early on Wednesday, down around 4 percent by 0830 GMT.
The retailer said online sales grew 41 percent over the year to reach 10 percent of net sales across the group in 2017.
It is the first time Inditex has broken out online sales. Unlike many fashion retailers struggling with competition from online vendors such as Amazon, Inditex is holding up well as brands like Zara combine their high street presence with a slick online offering.
Large stores in prime shopping areas act as a showcase for clothing which can be bought there and then, or ordered later online via the app or website. Online purchases can be picked up or returned in store.
The 10 percent of sales online compare to 12 percent for Swedish rival H&M but lag many British retailers such as Next with nearly 40 percent of sales online or M&S with 18 percent of clothing and home sales online, said Anne Critchlow of Societe Generale.
The company said sales at constant exchange rates grew 9 percent in the first five weeks of the new financial year as shoppers snapped up items from the spring/summer collections like printed maxi dresses, linen separates and pastel blazers from Zara.
The company launched transitional spring ranges slightly later this year, in February compared to January. This led analysts to expect a slightly negative effect to fourth quarter sales as January - the last month of Inditex's financial year - would not benefit from these ranges.
The company proposed a 10.3 percent increase in the dividend to 0.75 euros per share. This raised the payout ratio to 69 percent, up from last year's 67 percent, said Societe Generale..
($1 = 0.8066 euros)
(Reporting By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Paul Day)
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