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BT Group: Putsch talk boosts share price

Institutions are far from enamoured by the recent performance of boss Gavin Patterson
Gavin Patterson
Putsch or turkey shoot? Whichever, the BT CEO is in the City firing line

Talk of a potential putsch at BT Group plc (LON:BT.A) appears to have lifted stock in the telco, which has been struggling at a six-year low.

It was less of a leak and more a deluge of complaints that emerged Monday morning about the rather cack-handed stewardship of Gavin Patterson, the chief executive.

According to the Financial Times, shareholders have called for a meeting with chairman Jan du Plessis to discuss the future of the BT boss.

The company has stumbled from one crisis to the next under Patterson, having been rocked by an accounting scandal, as well as being fined by the regulator Ofcom.

Negative reaction

The market reacted negatively last month when it reset earnings guidance as BT unveiled restructuring and cost-cutting plans that will see 13,000 managers jettisoned.

As well as boosting profits, the overhaul is designed to divert more cash into its nascent 5G network and fibre.

A surprise to some was BT’s re-entry to the mobile market and a push into further pay-TV and sports rights.  

The FT spoke to five of the company’s top 20 investors with concerns over Patterson’s rather rocky tenure.  

Loss of faith

“I don’t have much faith in Gavin,” one told the paper. “Since he took over, it has not been a happy time for shareholders. I am not sure he is the right man for the job.”

Those comments and sentiments were echoed across the City, according to the FT.

The trade publication Capacity said the atmosphere inside BT was “toxic” and “very similar to 2009 but with a less capable CEO”, referring to the departure of former boss Ian Livingston.

In the City, the Swiss broker UBS provided its insights following a meeting with BT’s chief financial officer.

Analyst thinks BT may surprise City

Analyst Polo Tang reckons current earnings guidance may be conservative, giving BT some “headroom to surprise on the upside”.

The stock nudged1% higher to 208.5p. In December 2015 it was changing hands for more than double this figure.

A value catalyst could be the sale of a stake on Openreach, the company’s regulated business. But, according to the UBS number cruncher, the process is not without its difficulties.

Tang, who has a ‘neutral’ recommendation on the stock, believes BT is undervalued.

“We reiterate our view that the pension deficit at BT will narrow over time and there should be growing visibility over the economics for fibre capex,” the analyst said in a note to clients.

“That said, it will likely take several quarters to restore investor confidence after the recent reset of estimates.”

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