William Hill Shares Jump on Strong Start to the Year

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Published on:
Apr/21/2011

LONDON, April 21 (Reuters) - Britain's biggest bookmaker William Hill (WMH.L) said it had confidence in its full-year forecasts after demand for its online gambling sites boosted first-quarter operating profit, sending shares higher.

The company, which has around 2,350 betting shops in the UK and Ireland, said it had also seen increased amounts wagered in its over-the-counter business and through gaming machines.

William Hill, which takes over a million bets a day, said the strong performance resulted in group net revenue being up by 11 percent, with retail revenues up 8 percent and online net revenues up 26 percent.

The news, which followed an update from Ladbrokes (LAD.L) earlier this month reporting operating profit up 1.9 percent for the period, sent shares in William Hill up 9 percent at 216.3 pence.

"We have seen excellent growth across our business in the first quarter, enabling us to remain confident in our expectations for the full year," Chief Executive Ralph Topping said in a statement.

William Hill said it had seen an over-the-counter gross win margin above the top end of the expected trading range of 17 to 18 percent.

At 30 percent growth, Bingo continued to deliver the fastest growth in gaming but Poker and Casino were also growing well, up 16 percent and 13 percent, respectively. The group also reported strong growth in mobile gambling.

"We feel that William Hill is creating its own momentum especially in Machines and Online," said Liberum analyst Nigel Hicks.

"This is a strong set of Q1 data, clearly outperforming Ladbrokes IMS trading update results last week. We regard both stocks as too lowly valued, but for the short-term have more recently been favouring William Hill."

Rival Ladbrokes said earlier in April operating profit rose by 1.9 percent to 49.2 million pounds in the first quarter but warned of an uncertain outlook with the economic climate in Britain set to remaining challenging throughout 2011. [ID:nLDE73E066]

Peel Hunt said they had upgraded their forecasts for William Hill after the better than expected start to the year.

"More importantly, retail is showing good resilience, while the extreme volatility in the pure online gaming stocks could also work in William Hill's favour as a way to play the sector," Nick Batram said.

"These may prove to be the long awaited catalysts for a re-rating. We move to Buy."

Last week, William Hill said it would move into the U.S. gaming market for the first time after agreeing to buy two American sports betting businesses for $39 million.

 

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