FirstGroup expects continued financial hit while social distancing remains in place

The transport firm said it is not clear how quickly demand will pick up and it needs fiscal support to return to pre-crisis levels

FirstGroup - FirstGroup PLC expects continued financial hit until social distancing remains in place

FirstGroup PLC (LON:FGP) has said that social distancing measures are expected to significantly hit its service capacity and financial performance while they are in place.

Reporting its final results for the year to March 31, 2020, the buses and trains operator said that it is not clear how quickly demand will pick up.

READ: FirstGroup to enhance online offering as part of social distancing strategy

However, if the UK and North America enforce restrictions for the rest of the current financial year, but continue to provide fiscal support, the second half would see a gradual return to pre-crisis level, the group added.

The FTSE 250-listed firm also said it remains committed to selling its North American businesses “at the earliest appropriate opportunity” which will help repay its debt, which amounted to £3.2bn at the end of March.

Should a US disposal not be completed during the current financial year, the company said it would raise extra capital by selling First Student buses or Greyhound’s property portfolio.

As of the end of June, the group had access to £1.4bn of cash and borrowing facilities.

In the year to March 31, 2020, FirstGroup's revenue advanced by 8% to £7.7bn while its loss before tax widened by 67% to £299mln due to a £186mln impairment charge for Greyhound, a higher North America self-insurance reserve, and other restructuring charges.

The group said its board is not recommending a dividend to save cash.

"Whether earnings can recover fully by then is admittedly open to debate, but we remain convinced that the bulk of the group’s operation will revert to pre-crisis levels once lockdown, social distancing and other anti-coronavirus measures are lifted. The timing of that remains uncertain, and there are undoubtedly risks in the transition back to normality," analysts at Liberum commented.

"However, we believe these are more than adequately discounted in the current valuation, and the group remains cash generative through the lockdown and school closure phase of this crisis, thanks to support from government and customers."

Shares slipped 11% to 44p early on Wednesday.

--Adds analyst comment, shares--

Quick facts: FirstGroup

Price: 34.92 GBX

Market: LSE
Market Cap: £424.47 m

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