Cautious Wembley slashes dividend

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WEMBLEY, the venue management, leisure services and ticketing group, fell out with investors yesterday, announcing a sharp dividend cut and adopting an unusually cautious stance on trading prospects.

The interim dividend cut from 0.9p to 0.2p caused most umbrage, given that Wembley called on shareholders for pounds 37m via a one-for-one, 30p per share rights issue just eight months ago.

Shares in the national stadium's owner fell 7p to 18p on yesterday's interim figures, which resulted in downgradings of annual predictions by some analysts. But the price recouped some ground to close at 21p, down 4p, with the City drawing some contentment that full-year profits would probably be pounds 6m- pounds 7m, a big recovery on 1991's pounds 8.6m loss.

Results for the six months to 30 June showed profits before tax rising from pounds 709,000 to pounds 2.5m, on turnover up from pounds 83m to pounds 97m.

The rights issue will have more impact on interest charges in the second half, since the cash did not flow in until the second quarter. Interim interest charges were pounds 8.5m, down from pounds 9m.

Sir Brian Wolfson, chairman, defended the dividend cut, saying: 'There are areas of Wembley's business about which we are optimistic . . . however, the overall business environment remains unfavourable.

'We took the view that it would be no better or worse than last year, but that proved wrong. We believe it is prudent to keep the dividend covered in a cash position.'

Customers' spending per head is down across the whole group.

Earnings per share were 0.27p, against 0.16p last time.

Turning to first-half trading, Sir Brian said: 'The Wembley Stadium Complex improved. However, revenue from perimeter advertising at most major soccer events was lower than expected.'

The stadium hosted 25 events, but Wembley Arena was depressed, with the number of event days falling from 100 to 60. Conference and exhibition event days, though, climbed from 90 to 144.

US venue management operations had a 'worse six months', primarily because of a downturn in betting at greyhound tracks and competition from new casinos.

Elsewhere, corporate hospitality, conducted through Keith Prowse, had 'not had the greatest year since sliced bread, making only a small contribution'.