May 19, 2020 / 6:42 AM / 16 days ago

Compass raises 2 billion pounds as pace of recovery in question

(Reuters) - Compass Group (CPG.L) raised 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) of new capital on Tuesday at a hefty discount to its market value, seeking to reduce debt as the coronavirus crisis threatens to force a scaling back of the world’s largest catering company.

The British company, which employs 600,000 globally and serves daily meals to hundreds of thousands of schoolkids, office workers and prisoners, has been forced to close more than half its businesses as lockdowns took hold globally.

Its sale of 195 million new shares at 1,025 pence each was the latest move to ease pressure on its finances and came at a discount of 11.1% to Monday’s closing stock market prices.

That, allied to results that showed sales down 46% in April and profits falling, knocked as much as 11% off the market value of its shares on Tuesday before a late recovery. The company is now worth more than 40% less than it was in January.

Chief Executive Dominic Blakemore told Reuters that longer periods of physical distancing, school closures and working from home threatened to reduce the number of customers Compass serves.

“The equity placing is really the last piece of the puzzle ... to give us the resilience to weather whatever this crisis looks like over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said.

“It may be a slightly smaller business, our job is to ensure that we’ve got a profitable smaller business.”

The company did nod in the direction of using the funds to invest in expansion into profitable areas at a time when smaller firms are struggling to survive, but analysts largely read the move as defensive.

Citi analyst James Ainley said the company’s own scenarios pointed to a “bearish outlook” for 2021, with management expecting to be back within its target revenue range only by 2022.

Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and additional reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Edmund Blair and Sonya Hepinstall

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