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Ian Pollard – Sports Direct Sweetens The Offer

Sports Direct Intl plc SPD is continuing to push its pre-conditional possible offer for Debenhams at 5p in cash per ordinary share announced on 25 March 2019 but it is now trying to add a sweetener with a proposal to Debenhams under which it would underwrite a £150 million pre-emptive equity issuance to existing Debenhams shareholders. There are of course strings attached, one of which is the appointment of Mike Ashley as Debenhams’ CEO. Whether that can be regarded as adding to the sweetness of the package, remains to be seen. What may derogate from the sweetness but Sports Direct regards as being a technical matter only, is its clarification that were it to complete, the Equity Issuance would be an alternative transaction to the Possible Offer and vice versa.

Unite Group plc UTG The increase in valuations over the quarter to the 31st March has been driven primarily by rental growth across the portfolio which is in line with the first quarter in 2018 and supports the company’s outlook of 3.0-3.5% for the whole of 2019. Reservations are strong for the 2019/20 academic year with 79% of bed spaces already let (compared with 77% at this time last year)

Keywords Studios plc KWS produced a strong performance in the year to the 31st December with further expansion of new and existing services. Revenue rose by 66% and on an adjusted basis profits before tax was up by 65% and basic earnings per share by 53%. The final dividend is to be increased from 0.98 p per share to 1.08p. bringing the total increase for the year to 10%. An encouraging start has been made to 2019 with significant new business gains. Strengthened market leadership and breadth and scale of services which the company now offers enables it to take advantage of the multiple growth opportunities which the company sees in a market that continues to grow in size and sophistication.

Castleton Technology plc CTP updates that it has recorded good organic growth  in both revenue and profit in the year to the 31st March. The Board continues to be optimistic about the Group’s growth prospects and the market opportunity remains large. In particular new contract wins and acquisitions have made 2018 a milestone year and highlighted the company’s ability to develop new solutions.

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Ian Pollard – Galliford Try #GFRD, time to stop Government support for Housebuilders?

Galliford Try plc GFRD claims a very strong underlying performance for the year to the 30th June which is perhaps the understatement of the year, with profit before tax up by 145% and earnings per share by 128%. The final dividend is however reduced by 10%, following the re-statement of last years dividend. The continued financial support for the housebuilders by its friends in government begins to look more and more unjustified and more like an outright bribe to the industry in exchange for political support. This has become capitalist greed at its worst and nobody cares less that a direct consequence is that few can now afford what used to be a Tory birthright – ownership of your own home.

SSE plc SSE Things have not got any better for SSE after it issued its July update warning of the consequences of warm dry weather, lower consumption and higher gas prices, which were expected to impact first quarter operating profit by some £80m. It has continued to suffer from dry, still and warm weather and persistently high gas prices, resulting in higher energy costs, lower output from renewable sources and lower consumption. In the first five months operating profit has been negatively affected by about £190.m with the result that adjusted operating profit for the six months to 30 September 2018 is expected to be about halved from last year’s figure.

Sports Direct Intl SPD updates that its strategy to transform House of Fraser into the Harrods of the High Street will be ” a game changer.”, with current expectations that it will achieve  between a 5% and 15% improvement in underlying EBITDA for the current financial year, excluding the acquisition of House of Fraser.

Dunelm Group DNLM reports what it describes as healthy sales growth during the last year which enables it to increase its final dividend by a mighty 1.9%. Group revenue for the year to the 30th June increased by 9.9% whilst like for like sales sales grew by 4.2%. Underlying operating profit before tax was down by 6.7%. The UK retail environment continues to remain challenging says the company but trading during the current financial year to date is in line with expectations .

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Ian Pollard: SSE Impacted By Triple Weather Whammy

SSE plc SSE The first quarter was impacted by weather conditions with hydro output higher than last year due to higher snow melt but for both years output was below expected levels, with this year, some 20% lower than expected. Output from onshore and offshore wind farms has been around 15% below expectations due to poorer than average wind conditions. Finally temperatures in the UK for the three months to the 30th June were 1.5 degrees centigrade warmer than thirty-year average,  leading to a fall of about 10% in average domestic gas demand. Dry, still and warm weather, has also been accompanied by persistently high gas prices. Thus energy costs have risen,  electricity output from renewable sources has fallen at the same time as demand. All of these factors have negatively impacted adjusted operating profit for the quarter by some 80m which will potentially have an impact on the full year results.

Unilever plc ULVR claims a solid all round performance in challenging market conditions for its first half with one of the highlights being a 5% drop in turnover including an adverse currency impact of 8.9%. More and more companies failing to meet expextations, seek refuge in challenging market conditions, without ever explaining what exactly the challenges were and why management was incapable of meeting them. SSE appears to be no exception treating it as one of the facts of business life for which they need not offer a meaningful explanation.

Sports Direct Intl SPD will no doubt please shareholders with the news that t has am elevation strategy which is continuing to exceed expectations. Preliminary results for the year to the 29th April show that on a reported basis, profit before tax fell by 72.5% and earnings per share by  88.3%. On an underlying basis the figures showed rises of 34.5% and 74.6%, respectively.

Babcock International Group BAB updates that it has delivered strong growth in its aviation and nuclear sectors but defence revenues have been impacted, albeit perhaps only on a temporary basis, by another government restructuring in the creation of a Submarine Delivery Agency whose main purpose in life, apart from the creation  of more jobs for the boys, appears to be the creation of slowdowns and delays in activity levels.  Perhaps another level of bureaucracy could be added to get levels of activity back to where they were before the new agency was created.

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Ian Pollard – Sports Direct Hit By UK High Street Woes

Sports Direct Intl SPD Mike Ashley claims a spectacular trading performance during the half year to the 29th October which is hardly justified by the reality of the situation, namely a fall  of 1% in UK sports retail revenue or 1.2% on a like for like basis. So, he limits his claim to the trading performance in his flagship stores, of which they are going to open more. If his flagship stores are doing so well it makes the the rest of UK retail look even more gloomy. Gross margins in the UK fell by 80bps compared to a rise of 110bps for international retail. Group revenue for the half year rose by 4.7% which again only serves to illustrate how bad trading in UK high streets and shopping malls has become. Underlying profit before tax is, he claims, healthy with a rise of 22.9% although on a reported basis it fell by 67.3%. Underlying earnings per share were up by 32.9% as against a fall of 68.6% on a reported basis.

Ocado Group OCDO Sales growth was impacted during the quarter to the 3rd December, by a lack of capacity and especially a shortage of drivers. Average orders per week rose by 50% during the quarter, whilst the average order size remained stable.

PZ Cussons plc PZC Cautious consumers have created tough conditions and adversely affected performance in the half year to the 30th November with the result that profit for the half year is expected to be 10% lower than in the previous period, despite strong profitability in Asia, which has been offset by Africa and Europe. A robust and innovative pipeline has helped to underpin the first half and it is expected that the out turn for the full year, will be broadly in line .

Advanced Medical Solutions AMS updates on trading to the 31st December and confirms that it is continuing to deliver strong organic growth. Revenue and profit are,anticipated to be in line with current market expectations.

Bunzl BNZL Group revenue for the year to 31st December is expected to have risen by 15%, or 9-10% at constant exchange rates, as expected at the time of the October trading statement.



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House builders sales static but forward orders surge

Barratt Developments BDEV Completions in the year to the 30th June rose by a lowly 0.4% on 2016 but it was still the highest volume for nine years, enabling Barratt to claim another excellent year which produced a strong operational and financial performance. The final dividend is being increased by 39% in addition to a 17.3p per share special dividend. Profit before tax rose by 12.1% and basic earnings per share by 11.3p. No mention is made this time round of what happened to the average house price but the tiny rise in completions produced a 9.4% rise in revenue, so perhaps that speaks for itself. The future still looks rosy with forward sales as at the 3rd September up by 13.8%.

McCarthy & Stone MCS managed to complete only 6 more sales in the year to the 31st August than it did in 2016  despite a strong recovery in the second half which saw a strong upward momentum in the average selling price, which is set to continue into the current year. For the year as a whole the average selling price rose by 3% and revenue by 4%. The forward order book at he year end was 21% head of last year.

Sports Direct SPD provides a trading update ahead of today’s much anticipated AGM. The only statistic provided is that underlying EBITDA for 2018 is expected to grow by between 5% and 15% which appears to indicate a certain amount of uncertainty amongst senior management as to the eventual outcome of the years trading. The company’s obsession with becoming the Selfridges of sport seems to continue and Mike Ashley admits it is their strategic goal and that in fact they are exceeding their expectations in moving towards it.

WANdisco WAND claims an outstanding performance in the six months to the 30th June with total bookings up by 73%, revenue by 71% and its first ever positive EBITDA of $0.3m. compared to last years first half  loss of $4.5m. The result of this success is that the statutory operating loss fell from $17.9m to $3.8m. The order book is strong and the second half sales pipeline is gathering pace. Its latest Fusion version is claimed to have a broad appeal across multiple verticals, which presumably  it regards as a good thing.

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Sports Direct – Is It “Come Uppance” Day ?

Sports Direct SPD  Preliminary results for the year to 30th April show revenue growth of 11.7%  but apart from that it looks like Mike Ashley needs to get himself down the pub sharpish for another of those famous non alcoholic problem solving meetings. Profit before tax fell by 58.7% on an underlying basis and 22.2% on a reported basis whilst earnings per share were down by 67.9% on an underlying basis and 15.8% on a reported basis. Mr. Ashley lists a litany of reasons which impacted the company but bouncily proclaims that he is looking to the long term and will try to avoid short term volatility. Meanwhile he sees SDL as a sort of Selfridges. At least trading in his new flagship stores is exceeding expectations but “come uppance” may be today’s popular catch phrase in the city

easyJet EZJ has been granted its Air Operators Certificate and airline operators licence by the Austrian authorities and the first flight takes place today. Who ever thought that Brexit would lead to this. Presumably next come the visa problems for those trying to enter the city boundaries of Benidorm.

The third quarter to the 30th June  has been a strong one with capacity rising by 9.5% and passengers by 10.8%. Revenue per seat at constant currency rates rose by 2.2%, ahead of guidance and the figures were further aided by strict cost control and an improved underlying trend in the trading environment. The result is that headline profit before tax expectations have been upgraded to between £380m. and £420m. for the full year.

Moneysupermarket.com MONY is increasing its interim dividend for the half year to 30th June by 3% and with a commitment that its progressive dividend policy will be continued. Group revenue for the half year rose by 5% led by a strong performance, especially in quarter 2, from insurance which showed a rise of 18% and good growth from money, credit cards and loans. However adjusted operating profit for the full year is now expected to be at the lower end of the consensus range.

Judges Scientific plc JDG is pleased to have seen the the reversal of a long term trend, in the half year to the 30th June. Organic order growth rose by 28.1%, matched by double digit like for like sales growth. Strong first quarter orders were followed by a good second quarter and interim results will be expected to show solid progress in revenue, EBIT and earnings per share.

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The Unacceptable Face of Sports Direct

Sports Direct SPD Dave Forsey yesterday resigned both as CEO of Sports Direct and as a member of the board, after, as he put it, having “given my entire working life to the company” – hardly the sentiments of a man happy with his fate. And guess who has been appointed  by the nodding donkeys on the board to replace him as CEO ? Why of course it is none other than one Mike Ashley, the very same Mike Ashley who recently admitted to a parliamentary committee that his head was stuck so far up a cloud that he was completely unaware of the serious and long standing malpractices of his own company under his leadership.

Ashley’ performance in front of the committee was so embarrassing and harmful to the company, that most people in his position would have squirmed but he appeared to have not a squirm in him. Judging by those performances and the admissions as to his failings which he was forced into making, the one question should now be asked is, how can he believe that he is a fit and proper person to resume daily operational management of the company which he has so let down.

The damage caused to the company and its shareholders is huge.In August 2015 the share price stood at 805p since when it has fallen virtually non stop and closed yesterday 285.5p. Since as recently as the 6th September it has fallen by 17% following a critical report issued by its own lawyers and which identified serious shortcomings in working practices.

On the 15th September, Its in house brokers, Goldman Sachs, cut profit expectations by more than 5%. The company itself has had to warn of higher costs and lower margins.

What appeared to be another, of what should have been final straws, at least until yesterday, was to see Chairman Keith Hellawell, whose career since he stopped being a policeman hardly inspires confidence, clinging on to his position after the independent shareholders voted him out, a decision which brings us back to the nodding donkeys, who in true Sports Direct tradition, decided to ignore the vote and keep him on.

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Sports Direct Disappoints – Targets For Staff Rewards To Be Reduced

Sports Direct SPD has not had a good year. It openly admits that the year to 24th April was disappointing, so disappointing in fact that it  failed to reach the targets for the share based incentive scheme for eligible staff which is part of the company’s “high performance and reward culture”.  So what are they going to do about it. No problem, easy –  they are going to change the incentive scheme by making it easier to reward staff who haven’t produced the necessary results. Of course it wasn’t really the staff’s fault that targets weren’t met this year, it was because of tough trading conditions in the second half and tough trading conditions are as we all know completely outside the control of any company.

Preliminary results show group revenue rose by 2.5% but underlying profit before tax was down by 8.4% and earnings per share by 8.7%.

Marks & Spencer MKS had a fairly disastrous third quarter except in food where sales rose by 4% and strongly outperformed the market but even there, on a like for like basis they fell by 0.9%. Clothing and home sales fell by a whopping 8.3% but that was part of a deliberate policy to increase sales eventually. When “eventually” will arrive is not specified. Overall UK sales for the quarter to 2nd July fell by 1.1%. From my visit to M&S yesterday, any company which thinks it can get away with charging 24.99 Euro for a 3 pack of underpants, is living in cloud cuckoo land, especially when you have to queue for the privilege of paying for them.

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