Ladbrokes Coral was busy celebrating on Monday overcoming the “last significant hurdle” to its merger agreement. But the news that the company could only fetch £55.5m for the combined parcel of 359 shops it has offloaded to Betfred and Stan James will likely send shudders throughout the sector.
The shops sale was mandated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the summer which said between 350 and 400 outlets needed to be sold in order to satisfy local competition issues from the merging of the two estates.
The disposal will see Betfred pick up 322 shops for a total of £55m while Stan James will pick up the rump of 37 shops for £0.5m. It leaves the Ladbrokes Coral combination with a total of 3,626, the largest estate in the UK, pushing William Hill into second place with 2,330 and with Betfred now rising to 1,688.
The shops in question generated an EBITDA contribution of £28.5m which translates to a multiple of around 2.2 times and analysts were quick to brand the price-tag as disappointing. Richard Stuber at Numis said he had previously pencilled in proceeds of circa £108m, based partly on speculation in the press that Boylesports would be willing to pay around £100m for the parcel.
Indeed, Gala Coral chief executive Carl leaver hinted that other bidders might have been willing to pay more for the shops but Ladbrokes Coral had opted for certainty in order to get the deal over the line and move towards final CMA clearance.
But as Paul Leyland, founder at gambling consultancy Regulus Partners, said the low multiple still reflects the long-term earnings decline at the high-street bookmakers and the potential impact of the Triennial Review of gaming machine stakes and prizes which is likely to be officially announced by the government within weeks.
The news of the divestment sent the analysts back to the drawing board with their valuations for high-street bookmakers. Simon French at Cenkos said the “very disappointing valuation” achieved or these shops “must raise significant questions over the appropriate medium-term multiple with which to value both the enlarged Ladbrokes Coral retail estate and that within William Hill”.
Stuber at Numis said the “risk to future retail cash flows has clearly increased over last few months”.
Although he said he appreciated the forced nature of the sale and cautioned that it couldn’t give a read-across the entire estate, he said it would be prudent to cut its valuation of the combined group’s high-street business from nearly six times EBITDA to a multiple of four times.
The news that it was Betfred and Stan James that had won the race for these divested shops will no doubt be a disappointment to many, including the failed bidders and other interested parties such as the British Horseracing Authority which had lobbied the CMA to ensure true competition by allowing for a new competitor to enter the high street.
As Leyland from Regulus said: “The divestment to two established UK high-street operators will no doubt satisfy the CMA requirement that the acquirers must be qualified. However, it also means that the merger will not create a challenger brand, nor is it likely to drive material change within the (increasingly stale) offer available to British licensed betting office customers, in our view.”