Associated British Foods plc – Annual report – 15 September 2018
Industry: food and drink, retail
CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S STATEMENT (extract)
Withdrawal of the UK from the EU
The consequences for the group of the UK’s decision to leave the EU should be seen in the context of the diversity of our operations and geographical footprint, combined with a business model that has discrete Primark supply chains for the UK and Eurozone and which, wherever possible, aligns food production with the end markets for our products. Changes in legislation and trade agreements could provide significant opportunities for the food industry to replace imported food and build export markets and, for UK agricultural policy particularly, they have the potential to benefit our group. We continue to engage at all levels with a number of UK Government departments to ensure that the full range of opportunities and risks, as they affect us, are recognised.
In common with many other businesses, we share a concern about the risk of abrupt changes to the UK’s customs procedures. We therefore welcome the Government’s intention to have a transition period beyond March 2019 in which to implement the necessary systems and processes.
While we continue to regard the possibility of the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 without any form of transition period as highly unlikely, those businesses that might expect to see some disruption in these circumstances are making the preparations necessary to ensure this disruption is minimised. We do not expect these preparations to materially impact the financial performance of the group.
FINANCIAL REVIEW (extract)
With over 60% of the group’s operating profit earned outside the UK, the strengthening of sterling against most of our trading currencies, other than the euro, resulted in a loss on translation this year of £22m. US dollar weakness against the euro had a favourable transactional effect on Primark’s largely dollar-denominated purchases, particularly in the second half. The movement in sterling across the year resulted in a negative transactional effect in the first half moving to a favourable effect in the second half.
Next year we expect no material translation benefit at current exchange rates. The weaker US dollar exchange rate will have a favourable transactional effect on Primark’s margin in the first half and, assuming current exchange rates continue, we would expect a lower margin in the second half. However, the exchange rate applicable to purchases in the second half will be sensitive to the sterling exchange rate volatility which is likely to arise given a period of intense Brexit negotiations.
PRINCIPAL RISKS AND UNCERTAINTIES (extracts)
In 2016, we identified the UK’s decision to leave the European Union as having had some immediate impact on our results as a consequence of the effect on currency markets.
As the UK Government continues its negotiations, uncertainty remains as to the extent to which our operations and financial performance will be affected in the longer term. At a group and business level, we have continued to prepare for changes in legislation, trade agreements and working practices in order to take advantage of the changing commercial landscape and to mitigate risk.
We have contributed to government-led consultations on the potential changes and their likely impact on businesses and markets to help inform the exit strategy.
The directors have determined that the most appropriate period over which to assess the Company’s viability, in accordance with the UK Corporate Governance Code, is three years. This is consistent with the group’s business model which devolves operational decision-making to the businesses, each of which sets a strategic planning time horizon appropriate to its activities which are typically of three years duration. The directors also considered the diverse nature of the group’s activities and the degree to which the businesses change and evolve in the relatively short term.
The directors considered the group’s profitability, cash flows and key financial ratios over this period and the potential impact that the Principal Risks and Uncertainties set out on pages 60 to 64 could have on the solvency or liquidity of the group. Sensitivity analysis was applied to these metrics and the projected cash flows were stress tested against a range of scenarios.
The directors considered the level of performance that would cause the group to breach its debt covenants, the financial implications of making any strategic acquisitions and a variety of factors that have the potential to reduce profit substantially. These included the rate and success of Primark’s expansion; actions which could damage the group’s reputation for the long term; and macroeconomic influences such as fluctuations in world currency and commodity markets and the implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Such is the diversity of the group, with operations across 50 countries and sales in more than 100, that none of the principal risks or uncertainties individually is considered likely to have a material impact on the group’s profitability or extensive cash resources. Furthermore, the group’s business model means that no significant reliance is placed on any one group of customers or suppliers and its diversity reduces the risk that issues affecting a particular sector will have a material impact on the group as a whole.
At 15 September 2018, £1.2bn of committed borrowing facilities available to the group were undrawn and the directors are of the opinion that substantial further funding could be secured, at relatively short notice, should the need arise. The revolving credit facility is not due for renewal until July 2021 and over £300m of the private placement funding matures beyond the period under consideration.
The group has a sound track record of delivering strong cash flows, with well in excess of £1bn of operating cash being generated in each of the last eight years. This has been more than sufficient to fund expansionary capital investment and, specifically, has enabled the development of Primark in continental Europe and the US. The group’s cash flows have supported 8% compound annual growth in the dividend over the last ten years.
Even in a worst case scenario, with risks modelled to materialise simultaneously and for a sustained period, the likelihood of the group having insufficient resources to meet its financial obligations is remote. Based on this assessment, the directors confirm that they have a reasonable expectation that the Company will be able to continue in operation and meet its liabilities as they fall due over the three-year period to 18 September 2021.