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By Ankit Ajmera
(Reuters) - Harley-Davidson Inc slashed its dividend and halted share buybacks on Tuesday to boost its cash reserves as global lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic hit motorcycle demand in the first quarter.
The company has $1.47 billion in cash and is in talks with big U.S. banks to get $1.30 billion in loan to ride out the crisis, it said, adding it would focus on its core U.S. market to prop up sales.
Harley shares, which have lost nearly half of its value so far this year, jumped as much as 17% in morning trading after the company rolled out its cash preservation plan.
"Harley continues to struggle with declining sales, but it continues to generate respectable free cash flow and we consider shares fairly valued at current levels," said CFRA Research analyst Garrett Nelson.
To boost sales, the company also said it will "de-emphasize" on some unprofitable international regions.
The shift in strategy for the company that symbolized the counterculture movement of the 1960s comes as it struggles to woo the next generation of younger riders with its electric and more nimbler bikes in the United States.
Sales have been declining for the past five years in its largest market as its baby-boomer fan base ages. To make matters worse, the pandemic has further dented demand as Americans stay at home to curb the spread of COVID-19.
"We are at critical time in our history that requires significant changes to the company," said acting Chief Executive Officer Jochen Zeitz, who took helm in February and is best known for turning around the Puma brand.
Zeitz's plan to move the launch of new models to early part of the first quarter from August to better align with the start of the riding season helped U.S. retail sales in the first 10 week of the quarter to rise 6.6%.
But as the quarter drew to a close, overall sales fell 15.5% in the United States, taking a hit from the lockdowns. Retail sales fell 20.7% internationally.
Zeitz said Harley will expand its lineup of profitable motorcycles, while also focusing on selling new products such as adventure touring, sport bike Streetfighter and electric motorcycles.
Harley cut its quarterly dividend to 2 cents from 38 cents. Earlier this month, it pulled its 2020 profit forecast and decided to temporarily lay off most of its global production employees to reduce costs.
Motorcycles and related products revenue fell 8% to $1.10 billion in the quarter ended March 29. On an adjusted basis, it earned 51 cents, beating expectations of 41 cents, according to Refinitiv data.
(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sweta Singh and Arun Koyyur)