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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK

Business: The Company File

EMI stars get Asian flu

Spice Girls have continued to deliver impressive sales

An unlikely combination of Radiohead and the Spice Girls was not enough to help music group EMI overcome the effect of the economic downturn in late 1998.

Indeed, UK-based EMI's sales in the past year appear to show a direct correlation between the health of an economy and the number of albums being bought.

EMI estimates that the Latin American music market shrunk 7.9% last year, while South East Asia tumbled 23.9% and Europe managed a meagre growth of 1.1% in sales.

The biggest hit came from the economic crisis in Brazil - which accounts for 45% of the Latin American market (in itself 7% of EMI's global market) - and is the world's sixth largest music market.

[ image: Robbie Williams kept the UK entertained.]
Robbie Williams kept the UK entertained.
In Europe, a weaker music line up caused the group's labels' share of the market to fall by 2.7% despite albums from the Spice Girls, The Verve, Radiohead and Robbie Williams.

Across the Atlantic EMI gained market share with country and western artist Garth Brooks selling more than 6m copies of Double Live and 2m copies of The Limited Series.

Japan was also a strong success with 16-year-old Hikaru Utada's debut album, First Love, becoming Japan's biggest ever seller.

The US and Japan successes were not enough to make up for the falls elsewhere with EMI posting an overall 26% fall in profit to £227m.

Better times ahead

Nonetheless chairman Sir Colin Southgate struck an upbeat note on the outlook for the business, saying it was "moving aggressively and quickly" to exploit the potential of the Internet.

"Our new financial year has started well, with all areas on target and we are enjoying a particularly strong performance in Japan," he said.

EMI said its global market share fell to 13.5% from 14.2% at a time when the worldwide music market, according to EMI, grew by 1.2%.

It is expecting the year ahead, while not to be a boom one, to be better.

Takeover talk

Finance director and co-chairman Simon Duffy said that outside Brazil he expects Latin America to grow in single digits, with signs that even in Brazil, "the worst appears to be over".

Asia was the same, he said, with signs that EMI has hit the bottom, "but we're being cautious in internal planning".

New technology, namely selling records and publishing over the Internet, should also help, he said.

In an allusion to EMI's rivals Universal and Sony, the firm said the fact that it was purely music-oriented gave it an edge in Internet development.

"It can focus on the Internet - there are no software or hardware issues, and we don't have to assess what it means for films or games," said a spokesman.

In a year when Seagram called off a bid for the company and EMI was hit by speculation that it was in takeover talks with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and German media group Bertelsmann, the group remained tight lipped on future talks.

EMI's shares fell 10p to close at 449.75p.

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