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Friday newspaper share tips: Morrisons, Atlas Mara

By Alexander Bueso

Date: Friday 16 Sep 2016

Friday newspaper share tips: Morrisons, Atlas Mara

(ShareCast News) - Wm Morrison has a lot going for it and quite a bit against it too, the Financial Times´s lex column cautioned.

The smallest of the UK´s top four grocers is the second-biggest food manufacturer in Britain and owns four-fifths of its stores.

That means it can act quickly on pricing and close unwanted establishments just as fast.

Few non-food product lines also mean it is little exposed to weakness in sterling and its pensions are in a surplus.

Yesterday´s half-year numbers were all going in the right direction, with costs lower, free cash-flow higher and debt shrinking.

However, same-store sales at its supermarkets grew just 0.3% and gross margins were at just 3.7%, helping to explain why its return on capital is at around 6% versus over 10% in 2010, the tipster said.

"Selling food in the UK remains a brutally difficult way to make a living" Lex said.

Atlas Mara's performance is hugely dependent on whether the banking group founded by former Barclays boss Bob Diamond can effectively cut costs in the long-term, according to the Financial Times' Lex column.

Lex's supposition is that Africa will remain an area which will see increasing demand for banking operations as it continues its upwards trajectory as a fast-growing region.

Africa only rewards long-term investors, so the stereotype goes.

The acquisition of local banks should allow Atlas Mara to allow for a more coordinated and leveraged managerial system, but it appears to be haemorhagging costs quite badly, say Lex.

"The cost-to-income ratio, before one-offs, is an eye-watering 92 per cent. Part of this is down to the expense of integrating and improving acquisitions," the column said.

The cost-cutting should start at the top, according to Lex, with CEO John Vitalo earning $3.4m with a 4% equity return last year, compared with the Barclays Africa boss who was paid $1.9m and established a return of 17%.

The column advises to wait on Atlas Mara, as "shares are down 70 per cent since late 2013 and trade at half book value", but the inevitable reemergence of Africa will bear fruit in time - if it improves on efficiency.


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