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Halfords - full-year profit guidance lowered

Halfords reported half-year revenue of £873.5mn, up 8.3% on a like-for-like basis.

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Halfords reported half-year revenue of £873.5mn, up 8.3% on a like-for-like basis. The Autocentres business grew the fastest, with sales up 18.0% as non-discretionary categories like retail motoring and servicing driving performance. The group also gained market share across all its business divisions.

Underlying pre-tax profit grew 15.8% to £21.3mn. This was helped by strong top-line growth and good progress on its cost-cutting programme.

Free cash outflow increased from £0.1mn to £19.2mn due to an increase in inventory and unfavourable timings of payments. Net debt, including lease liabilities, rose from £336.0m to £372.3mn.

Full-year underlying pre-tax profits are now expected to land between £48-53mn, at the lower half of previous £48-58mn guidance.

An interim dividend of 3p per share has been announced, in line with last year.

The shares fell 19.1% following the announcement.

View the latest Halfords share price and how to deal

Our view

Due to a softening of sales in discretionary big-ticket categories, full-year profits are now expected to come in at the lower half of previous guidance. The market didn't react well to this downgrade, with the valuation taking a disproportionate beating. The current trading backdrop is challenging for Halfords and we think it's likely to remain so for some time.

Despite the disappointment around this year's profit outlook, the group is making some solid progress in its shift towards more reliable, service-based revenue.

Sales growth is being driven by higher by its Autocentres business, where there's a strong focus on non-discretionary services. Things like car servicing or a new battery aren't negotiable, so we're pleased to see that almost 50% of sales now come from this area, which is helping to offset weakness elsewhere.

And the Motoring Loyalty Club, which offers discounts on certain services, has continued to mushroom to over 2.9m members, up around 1.2m year-to-date. Club members are more likely to be engaged, shopping more frequently and spending more per visit.

The group's reliable store presence is also a big selling point. These are focused on delivering what online rivals can't: click & collect and a face-to-face service from an employee who knows what they're talking about.

But for all the positives around the Autocentres division, a lack of skilled labour has held back progress in recent times. That makes it more difficult to service demand and we question if it will limit the ability to perform more lucrative (complex) work. Finding enough trained staff to plug the hole won't happen overnight, but the group said it's made consistent progress on keeping hold of the staff it's already got, with colleague retention improving every single month this year.

Gross margins were also down by more than two percentage points as goods costs rose and lower-margin tyre sales became a larger chunk of total revenue. Keen pricing and promotional activity in retail also had an impact. These lower margins mean that Halfords is going to have to pedal harder just to keep profit standing still.

The balance sheet remains in reasonable health, with a net debt-to-cash profit ratio in line with the group's target. Free cash flow's expected to improve in the second half but, we're not expecting any increases to shareholder returns anytime soon. The cash is still needed to integrate acquisitions and scale up the motoring business.

The mix of online sales portal and real-world expertise is a potentially winning formula long term and shifting further toward needs-based products and services is a good move in our view. But softening consumer spending is continuing to test the group's mettle, resulting in the current valuation trading below the long-term average.

Halfords 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: 29th November 2023