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Tuesday newspaper share tips: William Hill, Ryanair

By Andrew Schonberg

Date: Tuesday 26 Jul 2016

Tuesday newspaper share tips: William Hill, Ryanair

(ShareCast News) - In-the-spotlight merger interest in high-street bookie William Hill from gambling-sector players 888 and Rank Group looks like little more than an opportunistic flutter, writes Financial Times' Lex column.
Just a year ago, William Hill rolled the dice for casino-operator 888, but its tilt failed.

Now, under the cosh of falling profitability and the surprise recent departure of its chief executive, it is in the headlines as the target of a merger with 888 and Rank.

Such a tie-up would be large, wrote the column, which observed the combined value of bingo-hall operator Rank and 888 was about £1.7bn, versus £2.7bn for William Hill.

All the three really have in common was offering punters different ways to enjoy a wager.

Lex wrote that William Hill's strategy was to expand its business online and abroad, and it was difficult to see that the three-way tryst would help these.

Rank's offshore operations were small. 888 earned roughly half its sales abroad, but a major proportion was from unregulated markets, which William Hill did not target.

"The UK would account for three-quarters of the new company's sales according to Liberum, when that market faces lower economic growth and the possibility of new gambling taxes," Lex wrote.

"Digital revenues at the combined group would not change from the target's total of 40%."

Rank and 888 alleged a deal, if it went ahead, would allow significant cost savings as industry consolidation and rivalry has flattened William Hill's profits.

If the duo paid a premium of 25% over Friday's closing price for William Hill, only annual cost cuts of at least £90m, taxed and capitalised, would make the deal worthwhile, Lex said.

Sidelining marketing and IT, it was difficult to see how this might be achieved given the little apparent overlap between the trinity.

After William Hill's share price hit a four-year nadir at start-July, concluded Lex, this "deal looks like no more than an opportunistic bet."

Meantime, The Telegraph's Questor column asserted that discount airline Ryanair might not be so badly hit by the non-binding UK vote to quit the European Union, opining the stocks as a 'Buy' option.

This was especially the case when the cost-focused, budget carrier was compared to its main rival, UK-based easyJet.

"Also consider how British Airways- and Iberia-owner IAG is faring, weighted down by the high costs that come from its legacy carrier underpinnings," asserted the column.

Ryanair's shares were trading on a price-earnings ratio of 12.3-times, falling to 10.6-times next year, both figures were well below the 15-times seen in November last year.

While airlines were not the most risk-free of investments, Questor believed that Ryanair was the best-placed to ride out future problems of any of its rivals.

Nevertheless, Ryanair was both surprised and disappointed by the so-called Brexit referendum's outcome last month, and expected a considerable period of political and economic uncertainty ahead for the UK and EU.

Consumer confidence would likely take a hit, with the airline's fares anticipated to fall in the near term. Ryanair had plans for all contingencies in place.

"If fact, if UK airlines hit difficulties operating in Europe as a result of Brexit, Ryanair is well-placed to benefit," said Questor.

Ryanair's Michael O'Leary has already said the carrier would not "pivot" its focus on to European operations following the 23 June referendum.

Plus, in Questor's view and sans guarantee, there was potential for Ryanair to deliver a special payout rather than a share buyback this year, O'Leary having already commented that this year's return would be of a similar level to last year's €800m.

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