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Ferguson Updates On Trading

150520_J-Tye_AB_Wolseley-2-368 725 x 500.jpg

At the time of the half year results on 17 March 2020 we gave a brief update on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on our operations. Ferguson is announcing today a further update on the impact of the virus and a trading update for the period to 31 March 2020.

Protecting Ferguson’s associates and supporting our customers

Ferguson provides a critical function in the supply of essential products and services which has been widely recognized by the relevant authorities in our trading geographies. Our trade customers maintain heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), clean and wastewater services to millions of homes and businesses. We keep key residential, commercial, industrial and public sector facilities running and we also support the major public utilities with the products they need for repair and maintenance of their networks.

During these challenging times, our immediate priority is safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our associates and customers. We have implemented new precautions across our business in adherence with the recommended Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Cleaning protocols at all sites have been enhanced and we are practicing social distancing at all locations. Our branches have moved to pick up and delivery only with customers encouraged to order ahead with pick-up in store / at the curb side. Associates who can work remotely are doing so, including over 14,000 US colleagues, with new processes and protocols implemented to keep our drivers safe. All our bricks and mortar showroom sites are closed though virtual consultations are continuing and we are driving strong adoption of ecommerce tools.

Current trading

Group trading to 31 March 2020 was not materially impacted by COVID-19, though revenue growth weakened towards the end of the period. Further details of the financial performance and market conditions in the Group’s businesses are set out below:

Revenue growth %         

% revenue

H1 20202 months
to 31 March1
Ongoing Group-+4.3%+7.3%
UK (non-ongoing)10%(4.7%)(10.3%)
Continuing operations100%+1.1%+5.1%

1 One additional trading day in current year added 2.5% to both US revenue growth ongoing operations respectively.

In the US since the half year, revenue growth accelerated in the two month period to 31 March and was broadly based across the regions and major business units with the order book at record levels. Within the last ten days the impact of COVID-19 has significantly increased mainly as a result of government actions and societal reactions as individual cities and states in the US have been increasingly impacted by the virus.

As a result the overall trading situation on the ground is therefore mixed across the US. For example, in recent weeks revenue has deteriorated in New York which has experienced severe outbreaks of the virus and have implemented widespread lockdowns. In contrast, revenue trends have continued to hold up well in many other regions and cities which are currently less affected by the virus.

To date, the majority of our US branch network has remained open. However, we are preparing carefully for lower activity levels given the likelihood of further regions experiencing disruption due to the spread of the virus. In light of recent CISA2 guidelines we have been working with the relevant authorities across each state and local jurisdiction to ensure we can continue to support our customers.

In Canada most of the markets are in lockdown and the current situation in the UK is extremely challenging with a widespread lockdown currently in place. In both regions our branch networks remain open where essential services are being provided.

As indicated at the time of the Half Year results given the unprecedented uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19 it is not possible to assess with certainty the impact it will have on the Group’s financial performance for the year. The Company is therefore not providing guidance for the year to 31 July 2020.

2 Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is a Federal body providing guidance to US state and territorial jurisdictions and the private sector on defining essential critical infrastructure workers.

Cost reduction actions

In light of the evolving COVID-19 situation, the Company has moved quickly to protect liquidity and cashflow while ensuring it is well positioned to benefit when the recovery takes place. Ferguson benefits from an agile business model and, as we prepare for short-term revenue pressure our approach has been to protect our skilled workforce which is critical to the long-term success of our business. We have already taken a number of prudent cost saving measures to protect short-term profitability and cash generation of the business. This has included a hiring freeze, a reduction in associate hours, overtime and the use of temporary staff, and temporary lay-offs being implemented in the worst hit regions. We have taken decisive action in the worst hit regions whilst ensuring the business is appropriately sized for the post COVID-19 operating environment.

UK demerger

The Board’s strategic intent to demerge the UK business is unchanged. The demerger of Wolseley UK remains on track to be completed this calendar year as previously announced. This will of course require market conditions to normalize by the latter part of the year.

Robust financial position

Ferguson has a proven cash generative business model and enters the current period with a strong balance sheet and significant liquidity headroom. The Company’s net debt excluding leases at 31 March 2020 was $1,929 million and the ratio of net debt to the last 12 months adjusted EBITDA was approximately 1.0 times. As at 31 March 2020 the Group had c.$2.5 billion of available liquidity comprising readily available cash of approximately $0.7 billion and $1.8 billion of undrawn facilities. Since 31 March the Company has been approved and has issued commercial paper under the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). 

Beyond the near-term challenges of COVID-19 the Group remains well positioned to deliver consistent outperformance.

Kevin Murphy, Group Chief Executive, commented

“Given the significant challenges of COVID-19 we have adjusted our operations rapidly to both safeguard the health and wellbeing of our associates but also to support essential services in our local markets. We would like to thank our associates for their commitment and dedication to our business and we are incredibly proud of their efforts in recent weeks as we support key industries."

“Ferguson is a strong and resilient business and our business model remains attractive and cash generative. We are taking appropriate actions on cost and cashflow given the uncertain near-term trading outlook. We have good liquidity which positions us well to navigate this period of uncertainty and to support the recovery when the effects of COVID-19 subside.”

Source : Ferguson

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15 April 2020

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