New boss steers Thomas Cook to calmer waters

After a tumultuous year, the travel agent's new boss is soothing investors
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The Independent Online

Thomas Cook's new chief executive, Harriet Green, one of the few remaining female bosses at a major listed company, will this week try to persuade investors that the holiday group has a secure future.

A rocky year that saw the 171-year-old group dice with death is likely to continue with more write-downs and write-offs set to see the travel agent report another set of thumping losses at its full-year results on Wednesday.

But its situation no longer seems terminal. Some investors think the group should use a recent bounce in its share price to tap the market for more funding to give it breathing space in the near future.

Signs of optimism should come from around £155m of operating profit and some tough talk from Ms Green, already making waves as a bright spark willing to take the radical action needed to save the business.

While City analysts think Ms Green will wait until next year to unveil the full extent of what will be a major shake-up, she is expected this week to signal a "new dawn" at a business that endured three profit warnings last year.

One of these saw its shares lose 70 per cent in a single day's trading. Investec said in a note to clients: "Although detailed figures on cost efficiencies and revenue upside targets may have to wait until spring 2013, we hope that the outlook statement and analyst presentation will serve as a platform from which a brighter, more profitable future can be effectively communicated."

Last week, Ms Green told the Confederation of British Industry conference that she had been struck by the power of the Thomas Cook brand. She said innovation and differentiation, having the right business infrastructure in the UK and an obsession with customers were the driving mantras.

On the last point, Green said "all roads lead to technology", an admission that Thomas Cook had fallen behind rivals in its internet offering.

Analysts at Panmure Gordon said they think the group "should use the recent share price strength to raise additional equity". Some say it needs another £200m to be safe. It has already had to raise many millions from its banks to survive.

Thomas Cook shares closed at 24p on Friday, up 4.35 per cent on the start of day's trading. This values the business at around £200m and is up on lows of well under 15p a share earlier this year.