William Hill CFO steps down, despite trading update exceeding market expectations

BoyleSports acquires William Hill stores in Northern Ireland

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The profit outturn was "quite a material beat", said broker Peel Hunt, but as it is a function of favourable sporting results the analysts were not changing their 2020 forecasts at this stage.

William Hill said on Monday that adjusted operating profit for 2019 is set to come in ahead of market and management expectations, as it announced the departure of chief financial officer Ruth Prior.

Shares in gambling firm William Hill (WMH) surged as much as 6% to 195p in early trade after it revealed that operating profits for a year ago would be "ahead of market and management expectations". The operator said in its trading update that despite the challenges and thanks to favorable sports results in December, its retail arm generated operating profit above the guided range of £50-£70 million. Gaming also performed ahead of expectations.

Betting companies have become increasingly restricted in the United Kingdom and other European markets such as Italy and Sweden as governments crack down on gambling advertising and betting online. In contrast to the United Kingdom, gaming revenues were better thanks to a strong performance from Mr Green while sports book revenues were weaker.

Overseas online revenue is expected to be "broadly flat" on a pro forma basis in the fourth quarter as sportsbook was weak but Sweden-based Mr Green drove a good performance in gaming.

William Hill added that its USA business continued "strong" growth in the fourth quarter on the back of investment and increased wager size, helping the U.S. arm to break even.

Chief executive officer Ulrik Bengtsson said: "The group has delivered a strong operating performance, ahead of our expectations and against a challenging regulatory backdrop". The company said today that during 2019, it made "good progress" towards delivering its long-term strategy to become a "digitally led and internationally diversified business of scale while continuing to embed a culture of responsible gambling".

Breakeven is now also anticipated for the USA business, which takes sports bets across 10 states and launched its online platform in September, where guidance had been for losses of up to $20mln. "We look forward to building on these efforts in 2020 with a strong focus on customer, team and execution".

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