By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS (Reuters) - Shares in Remy Cointreau <RCOP. PA> fell on Friday after the surprise resignation of the French spirits group's chief executive after only three months in the job.
Shares in the maker of Remy Martin cognac and Cointreau liqueur, which had lost 27 percent in the past six months, were down more than 2 percent at 59.19 euros by 0838 GMT.
The resignation, coming after a profit warning at the end of November due to weak Chinese demand, led some analysts to speculate Frederic Pflanz's departure could be related to the company's poor performance.
"Maybe the group is fond of Pflanz but thinks he was not right for the job," one Paris-based analyst said.
Remy did not provide an explanation other than saying the CEO was leaving for personal reasons. It added that Pflanz, who was promoted on October 1 to CEO from chief operating officer having joined the group in 2010 as finance director, would stay on as development director.
Remy has been hit by China's anti-corruption campaign, causing the consumption of cognac - its main growth engine - to decline significantly, with no sign of improvement in sight.
Cognac represents 60 percent of Remy's sales and accounts for more than 80 percent of its operating profit. After soaring for years, China's appetite for the drink started to dry up last year under China's new leadership.
Even though Remy said its strategy remained the same, some analysts wondered if Pflanz's departure signalled a need for change.
Remy is small compared with the likes of Pernod Ricard <PERP. PA> and Diageo <DGE. L> and may need to make acquisitions to diversify its profile, some analysts argue.
Others believe the group needs to push more aggressively into markets such as the United States and Russia to reduce its dependence on China.
"The company had been under huge pressure for 12 months due to the slowdown in China ... This resignation is clearly not helping the company," one Paris-based trader said, adding any investment in the group would be "dead money for at least a year."
Chairman Francois Heriard Dubreuil, a member of the controlling family, will assume Pflanz's responsibilities until a replacement is found.
No-one at Remy was available for comment on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; Editing by David Holmes)