Six Continents plc. Interim Results

Financial Highlights:—Operating profit—Six Continents Hotels down 41.1 per cent to £109m—Six Continents Retail up 8.1 per cent to £146m*—Britvic Soft Drinks up 45.5 per cent to £16m—Profit before tax and exceptional items down 28.2 per cent to £242m—Earnings per share were 31.9p compared to 22.7p** in 2001—Adjusted earnings per share before major exceptional items were 18.7p compared to 26.4p** in 2001—Interim dividend per share up 2.9 per cent to 10.7p (* ongoing estate
** restated for FRS19) 

Business Highlights:—Hotels - management actions limit impact of the events of 11 September 2001: accelerating investment to take full advantage of the upturn—Results cover the six months following the tragedy of 11 September
—Results demonstrate resilience through our franchised and midscale businesses—Promotional/advertising campaigns and operating cost reductions limited impact of slowdown—Further recovery through March and April trading in US and UK—Revenue investment in marketing, sales force and reservation systems to drive growth—Posthouse rebranded to Holiday Inn - renovation of 2,000 rooms this year—Strong distribution pipeline - 490 hotels with 66,800 rooms

—Retail - strong performance, with successful brand conversion strategy—Total sales ahead 7.8 per cent: market share gains—Average sales per outlet up 6 per cent to £14,200 per week: over three times industry average—Maintained margins despite regulatory cost increases —347 former Allied sites converted to date - total of 400 by year end—Post-conversion sales uplifts continue to exceed 40 per cent—122 branded outlets opened in the first half - total of over 250 this year—Strong pipeline of outlets - 600 sites identified for conversion—Soft Drinks - record first half—Continues to perform strongly in competitive market—Building on strength of existing brands and successful new product development—Strong growth in Pepsi, Robinsons, Fruit Shoot and J20: total volume up 3.5 per cent

CURRENT TRADING AND OUTLOOK: Following the unprecedented shock to travel confidence of last September, the prospects for recovery from this low point of the hotel cycle are very strong. We are encouraged by the continuing improvements in our trading through March and April. However our optimism for the rebound is tempered in the short-term by some uncertainty surrounding the pace of recovery in the US corporate sector, and long-haul travel into the gateway cities.



In Retail, we expect continued strong overall sales growth driven by the high uplifts from our conversion programme and the improving supply/demand balance in the industry. The benefits of brand scale and the efficiencies that we are achieving will help us to mitigate some further regulatory cost pressure on margins in the near term.
COMMENTS: Sir Ian Prosser, Chairman, commented: “The results for the first six months of the financial year demonstrate the strength of our business during exceptionally tough conditions in the global hotels market. Their impact has been limited by the actions we have taken to stimulate demand in Hotels and improve efficiency together with strong performances in Retail and Soft Drinks.


“Our corporate strategy remains focused on seeking the right investments in a fragmented hotel market, to make the best use of our balance sheet resources. Given the sensitivity of private and public valuations to the pace of recovery, we continue to believe that there will be opportunities to execute our strategy and create value over and above our substantial organic expansion plans. However, we do believe that valuations will have largely recovered by December. Therefore, if we have not found such opportunities, then, no later than the end of this calendar year, we will commence a return of surplus funds to shareholders through a share repurchase programme.

“We are confident in the future of our business given the continued investment in our brands, our people and our properties.”

Tim Clarke, Chief Executive, commented: Overview - “In Hotels, we have concentrated during a very tough first half, on defending our profits. We have also maintained our investment in the business to generate revenues, improve efficiency, renovate our assets and drive the distribution of our brands.
“In Retail, the combination of our growing scale advantages and the capacity of our brands to add value to a strong site pipeline will sustain high investment returns and strong earnings growth.”

Hotels - “In the first half, the resilience of our franchised, largely midscale, domestic business has contrasted the operational gearing of our owned mostly upscale hotels, with heavy exposure to international long haul travel. During perhaps the toughest period that the hotel industry has experienced, we concentrated on defending profitability through increased sales promotions and operating cost reductions while fully maintaining our investment programme.

“Going forward, our priorities are to maximise the profits recovery of the owned hotels, to expand brand distribution scale and to enhance our RevPAR delivery to the franchised system.

“We see improvements in RevPAR being driven by recovering US travel and better long term economic prospects, more favourable supply trends and as a result of our significant revenue investment.

“Six of the Big 10 Inter-Continental hotel renovations are now complete and 2,000 rooms from the re-branded ex-Posthouse hotels will be upgraded this year. We are accelerating the distribution of our brands through our existing pipeline of 66,800 rooms, and additional acquisitions of properties that meet our strict financial and strategic criteria.

“As a result we are confident that Six Continents Hotels will take full advantage of the upturn in the market.”