Moneysupermarket.com share price plunges after sales growth stalls

Wed Jul 31, 2013 6:03am EDT

LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - Moneysupermarket.com said sales growth had ground to a halt in July after its rival price comparison website operators stepped up television advertising, sending its share price to a three-month low on Wednesday.

The company's stock fell 18 percent to 172.5 pence as some analysts said the slowdown, which started in the second quarter, raised concerns the firm would not meet their full-year forecasts.

The group which owns Moneysupermarket.com, where customers can compare prices for various services, said revenues had been affected by the timing of its new TV ad campaign, which will launch in August, compared with July last year.

By contrast, it said its main competitors had launched new TV campaigns in the second quarter.

Price comparison sites have advertised heavily in recent years as they fight for customers looking for motor, travel and home insurance, energy suppliers, loans and other products.

"Revenue in July is flat year-on-year against a strong July last year when the new advertising campaign was launched," the company said in a statement.

Moneysupermarket.com's main rivals include Confused.com, Comparethemarket.com and Gocompare.com, which are not individually listed on stock exchanges.

The comments on trading came as the group posted a 29 percent rise in adjusted core earnings of 39.9 million pounds ($61 million) for the first half, on revenue up 10 percent to 112.3 million pounds, in line with analysts' expectations.

The group said travel and home services performed well in the first half, but savings products were hit by the government's funding-for-lending scheme, which was reducing savers' returns.

It also said demand for insurance weakened in the second quarter, in part affected by a change in Google's algorithms in May that reduced the company's ranking in searches.

Analyst Steve Liechti at Investec said the first-half numbers were fine, but the full-year outlook looked an issue, and he intended to tweak down his forecasts.

"July sales are only flat, but the new ad campaign is delayed to August this year versus July before, so this could be clawed back," he said.

The firm, which raised its interim dividend by 20 percent to 2.16 pence, also announced that Chief Financial Officer Paul Doughty would leave the company by June 2014.