William Hill is confident as online surges

City A.M. Reporter
BRITAIN’S second-biggest bookmaker William Hill said it had made an encouraging start to the year, boosted by strong online sales, and was confident of meeting its full-year forecasts.

William Hill, which has around 2,300 betting shops in Britain and Ireland, said in a trading statement for the 13 weeks to the end of March that total sales were up one per cent on last year, with pre-exceptional operating profit up three per cent.

“I am satisfied with our performance this early in the year, with an improvement shown in overall retail turnover levels and good growth from William Hill Online in revenues, operating profit and new accounts,” said chief executive Ralph Topping.

Net online revenue in the period was up 25 per cent, with operating profit up 51 per cent and new accounts up 31 per cent.

William Hill said current trading in the four weeks to 27 April had been “generally good”, and it was confident on the full year, albeit against a “challenging” economic climate.

In February, William Hill reported full-year results at the upper end of analyst forecasts, although profits were down on the year as a result of the recession and sporting results going against the company.

Shares in William Hill have risen 9.2 per cent in the year to date, lagging 12.2 per cent against the FTSE All Share Travel & Leisure Index.

They closed at 202.9p yesterday valuing the business at £1.45bn.

“William Hill is making tentative steps towards recovery,” said Numis analyst Douglas Jack. Jack noted that the “stellar growth” of online was currently offsetting a decline in the retail business, but warned that with the next 12 months looking tough for the UK economy retail could still knock the overall business off course.