William Hill Issues Trading Statement

Reports a record year with operating profit up 11 percent

Online and land gambling group William Hill plc has issued a trading update covering the 13 weeks from to (Q4) and the unaudited 52 weeks to (full year), reporting:

* Full-year group net revenue up 8 percent and operating profit up 11 percent to around GBP 371 million, higher than analysts' forecasts of GBP 357 million;

* Continued year-on-year gaming growth in Q4 in both Online and Retail;

* Q4 sports betting revenue progression adversely impacted by customer-friendly results;

* US profits ahead of expectations in Q4 and full-year;

* Australian quarterly profit growth benefits from positive margin swing;

* Continued commitment to responsible gambling.

Chief executive officer James Henderson commented:

"Overall it's been a good performance in 2014 for the group, driven by both the continued development of our UK-facing operations and our international diversification, together with a successful World Cup. On a full-year basis, operating profit from Online, William Hill Australia and William Hill US all continued to grow very strongly and Retail delivered another resilient performance, benefiting from effective cost control.

"In Q4, generally weaker sporting results in December impacted our revenue progression, as did a very tough November comparative, but gaming continued to grow. In particular, Boxing Day – one of the busiest days in our year – was a very good day for the customer with all but one of the top ten football favourites winning that day. Yet, in spite of that, our performance means we've delivered our best ever full-year operating profit result.

"Notwithstanding a difficult start to the new year with highly unfavourable football results in week 3, we remain in a strong position going into 2015.

"Online is very well positioned as the new Point of Consumption Tax regime starts and we continue to diversify successfully, with 18 percent of our revenues now coming from outside the UK."

Henderson took the opportunity to announce the group's intention to rebrand Australian operations, bringing these visually under the William Hill brand.

He said that William Hill Australia's potential has been significantly improved as a result of management changes, the restructuring of operations, increased marketing effectiveness, enhanced user experience and the ongoing expansion of the product range.

"Using the William Hill brand in Italy, Spain and the US, alongside the UK, has already proved highly successful. I believe now is the right time to adopt the William Hill brand in Australia," Henderson observed.

"The previous introduction of the "powered by William Hill" branding in that market has seen awareness build and the complete change will further improve our competitiveness, bring greater focus to our marketing and IT investment and gives us a strong global brand to compete at the highest level in this attractive market."

Q4-2014 results:

Profits fell 7 percent in the fourth quarter.

The company's numbers show that in Q4-2014 there were declines in sports betting net revenue in Retail over-the-counter (OTC) and Online Sportsbook.

Gross win margins were softer due to unfavourable football and horse racing results, and amounts wagered were down 1 percent in OTC and up 16 percent in Sportsbook, with in-play wagering up 27 percent and pre-match up 8 percent.

Mobile continued to perform strongly and delivered more than 50 percent of Sportsbook amounts wagered during the quarter.

Gaming continued to deliver growth, benefiting from strong mobile gaming revenues in Online, increasing by 86 percent and representing 38 percent of gaming revenues.

The Eclipse machines in the Retail estate performed strongly and are now available in 70 percent of the group's retail shops, with the company on track to complete the roll-out to the remainder of the estate in Q2-2015. Gross win per machine per week was up from GBP 920 in 2013 to GBP 974 in 2014.

William Hill Australia scored from better results in the peak Spring Carnival period in 2014 compared with 2013, but on a local currency basis, amounts wagered were down 13 percent although net revenue was up 15 percent.

Unique active player numbers were up 9 percent in Q4, driven by successful retention and reactivation programmes despite new accounts falling 4 percent. Full-year pro forma cost per acquisition was down 25 percent at A$352.

In the United States, William Hill US ended the year with another strong quarter: amounts wagered up 20 percent; net revenue up 18 percent; a gross win margin down slightly at 8.1 percent (Q4-2013: 8.3 percent) and operating profit up 14 percent.

Telephone betting delivered a small operating loss in the quarter.

Looking at the full year, William Hill reported:

* Group net revenue up 8 percent, with Retail slightly ahead and Online up 18 percent. William Hill Australia was up 41 percent (11% on a pro forma local currency basis), William Hill US increased 30 percent but Telephone activity was down 28 percent.

* Group operating profit is expected to be around GBP 371 million. Full-year pre-exceptional defined amortisation is now expected to be c around GBP 9 million, and the group expects its pre-exceptional effective tax rate for 2014 to be 20 percent and for 2015 to remain at 19 percent.

* Exceptional items are expected to total GBP 39 million before tax and before the impact of the Australian rebranding project. This includes an indirect tax debit of GBP 10 million relating to a provision for potential European indirect tax liabilities.

The group also expects an exceptional corporation tax credit of GBP 15 million following the successful finalisation of a tax matter.

* Group net debt stood at GBP 603 million at , significantly lower that that pertaining in December 2013 (GBP 796 million).

The update notes that William Hill Australia currently operates the Sportingbet, Centrebet and tomwaterhouse.com brands in the Australian online sports betting market, all of which will be rebranded to the central William Hill corporate identity.

Sportingbet customers will migrate in the first quarter of 2015, with Centrebet customers being migrated later in the year and tomwaterhouse.com customers expected to migrate in early 2016.

The group intends to invest an incremental GBP 5 million in marketing and other costs to launch the William Hill brand in 2015.

In the UK, William Hill has licensed its online interests under the Gambling Commission in order to continue serving online and mobile British punters. The new point-of-consumption taxation regime kicked in on December 1 2014, imposing a 15 percent gross profits tax on UK revenues.

The group also expects to be hit by an additional GBP 5 million a year in tax demands from European Union governments following the implementation of an EU Value Added Tax directive charging VAT on electronic services on a place of consumption basis as from .

William Hill's directors remain confident that the group is strongly positioned entering 2015, especially in the Online division.

Online Casino News Courtesy of Infopowa

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