Bottom Line: U-turn by Owners

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The Independent Online
THE DIZZYING speed with which Owners Abroad's confident statements during the bid from Airtours have turned to dire profits warnings must be leaving bruised shareholders wondering whether they were duped.

Although Owners did not make a profits forecast during the bid, it failed to contest brokers' forecasts of pounds 40m-plus for the current year. Now it appears the actual figure will be around pounds 15m before bid defence costs of pounds 4.6m.

The shares have plummeted from a high during the bid of 152p to a close yesterday at 66p. Airtours, which sold its 8.2 per cent stake in late March at 117p a share, had a lucky escape.

Owners insists that all was well until the end of April when the summer programme was 54 per cent sold - the best level of sales in the company's history. Late bookings, discounting in May and June have proved its undoing.

The package holiday market is notoriously volatile, but with good management and market information companies should be able to respond quickly to changing demand.

Shareholders have probably seen the worst and might as well hang on.

The interim dividend has been kept as forecast at 1.4p net, but there is no promise to stick to the 5p total forecast in the defence document. If delivered, the yield would be 9.5 per cent.

It is probably going to take shareholders such as Gartmore, which switched allegiance to Owners at the eleventh hour, a long time to regain their composure.