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Associated British Foods - special dividend announced

Associated British Foods reported full-year revenue of pound;19.8bn, up 15% ignoring exchange rate impacts.

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Associated British Foods (ABF) reported full-year revenue of £19.8bn, up 15% ignoring exchange rate impacts. This was driven by growth in all business units as prices were raised to help offset the impact of inflation. The positive performance included a 15% increase in Primark sales.

Underlying operating profit rose 4% to £1.5bn. The associated margin fell from 8.4% to 7.7% as price hikes taken weren't enough to fully offset inflated costs.

Free cash flow improved from an outflow of £84m to an inflow of £269m, largely due to higher operating cash flows. Net debt, including lease liabilities, rose from £1.8bn to £2.3bn.

The group expects the underlying operating margin at Primark to improve from 8.2% to above 10% as material and freight costs ease. The Sugar business is expected to deliver a "substantial improvement in profitability" in the new financial year.

A final dividend of 33.1p per share has been announced alongside a special dividend of 12.7p per share. A new £500m share buyback program has also been announced and is set to be completed within 12 months.

The shares rose 6.4% following the announcement.

View the latest ABF share price and how to deal

Our view

Associated British Foods continues to put in a resilient showing. A 15% jump in sales at the important Primark division is no small achievement at a time when consumers are feeling the pinch.

The key Primark business has benefitted from a changing retail landscape over the past few years, especially with the demise of Debenhams and Topshop. And while many other large physical retailers are closing their doors, Primark increased its store count by 27, with plans to open around 100 more by the end of 2026.

For all this to be possible Primark has to have a laser-like focus on its ranges and make sure its offering precisely what people want - there is no room for wasted hanger space. This seems to be being executed near-perfectly and is also being supported by Primark's digital pivot.

Primark's website has been given an overhaul. A click-and-collect trial in the UK has been described as encouraging and has now been extended to womenswear, and while it's good for the consumer experience, we have concerns. The lack of large-scale delivery infrastructure is a key driver in being able to keep its prices so low.

Price hikes in other parts of the business have started to filter through too, with high Sugar and Ingredients prices softening the blow. ABF is home to an eclectic mix of food and commodity businesses. This diversification helps to spread risk and ensures that the company isn't overly reliant on any one particular product or division. But bear in mind, sugar and other commodity prices are cyclical and will fluctuate over time.

Overall, group profit growth's expected to accelerate in the new financial year, helped partly by lower freight and material costs. We're encouraged by this assessment but will need some hardened proof before celebrating - the consumer and commodity landscapes both remain uncertain.

Including lease liabilities, the group's net debt pile has grown to £2.3bn. But compared to the group's underlying cash profits (EBITDA) of £2.4bn, debt remains well below the group's target. That means there's room to feed excess cash back to shareholders in the form of a special dividend and new share buyback programme. As always though, shareholder returns are never guaranteed.

ABF offers a dynamic business model and growth opportunities at Primark, especially in the US. As inflation eases and commodity costs normalise, we think there's plenty of room for Primark to restore margins. And with the current valuation some way below the long-term average, now could mark an attractive entry point for potential long-term investors. Please remember, nothing is guaranteed.

ABF key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn't be looked at on their own - it's important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

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Written by
Aarin Chiekrie
Aarin Chiekrie
Equity Analyst

Aarin is a member of the Equity Research team. Alongside our other analysts, he provides regular research and analysis on individual companies and wider sectors. Having a keen interest in global economics, he knows how macro-events can impact individual companies.

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Article history
Published: 7th November 2023