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Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Hills happy to go it alone after announcing financial results

Philip Bowcock: pleased with William Hill's performance so far in 2017
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William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock is confident his firm can survive on its own in an industry that has witnessed its share of high-profile mergers, but is not ruling out a deal in the future.

The bookmaker underwent turmoil during 2016, culminating in a failed merger with Pokerstars' owner Amaya, which came after the company rebuffed a takeover attempt by a Rank Group and 888 consortium, 888 being a firm Hills had previously themselves held merger talks with.

Paddy Power and Betfair have joined forces, as have Ladbrokes and Coral, with other deals such as GVC Holdings' purchase of Bwin having taken place in recent years.

However, Bowcock feels Hills' performance in the first half of 2017 gives cause for optimism with the number of active punters up by seven per cent, along with five per cent more new accounts for the period up to week 23 of the year, which excludes the 2016 European Championship football tournament for comparison purposes.

The bookmaker's operating profit fell one per cent to £129.5 million, with its adjusted profit before tax rising by two per cent to £111.2m as wagering increased.

"I don't know what other results are going to be like but I can look at what we've released today and I'm confident those results are going to stand up well in the wider marketplace," said Bowcock.

"I think as long as we deliver results in line with this, there's not a necessity to do any transaction.

"However, like any business in any sector, if an opportunity arises we'll look at it on its merits and make a decision to ensure we're delivering shareholder value."

Overall, wagering in the UK was up by 13 per cent in the first half of the year, with the firm's net revenue up three per cent on the corresponding period in 2016, coming in at £837m for the 26 weeks to June 27, leading the board to increase the dividend per share by four per cent to 4.26p.

"This is a positive performance overall," said Bowcock. "Profits were broadly flat but given the tough comparator from last year's Euros that we're running into, that result was at the top end of analysts' expectations.

"In the UK up to week 23, which is the proper like-for-like comparator, we saw wagering up 15 per cent online. Gaming was also up in the high single digits and that's because we've been delivering on all aspects of the business. It's about delivering a better product to the online customer, which we've been doing."

Bowcock also reflected on Hills' early deal with betting shop television channel The Racing Partnership (TRP), with Ladbrokes Coral and Betfred ending their lengthy stand-offs with the group in recent weeks.

The CEO remains happy with both the deal his firm struck and its timing and said: "If I knew then what I know now I'd have done exactly the same thing on exactly the same commercial terms."

Hills' share price closed on Wednesday up 15.4p at 268p.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done exactly the same thing on exactly the same commercial terms
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