A setback for Halfords Group (LSE:HFD) due to tougher conditions in cycling and tyre markets today failed to dent City optimism that the retail and car servicing business is on the right track.
The shares skidded 43.2p to 185.4p, wiping out this month’s strong rebound as interim results tightened full-year guidance towards the lower end of the previous range.
Broker Peel Hunt told clients that the share price weakness should be used as an opportunity as it reiterated a target price of 275p. It said: “In our view, management is doing pretty much everything right to control the controllables and the market will turn in time.”
Counterparts at Singer Capital had a similar message after seeing Halfords grow market share across its four segments of retail motoring, cycling, consumer tyres and car servicing.
It also said that the shift to needs-driven services is gaining traction, acting as a buffer to the current pressure on discretionary spending.
While half-year profits rose in line with expectations by 15.8% to £21.3 million and the dividend for payment on 19 January is unchanged at 3p, the outlook has been clouded by weaker big ticket spending and subdued growth in the consumer tyre market.
Singer said: “This should prove to be a bump in the road as real incomes recover, fuel prices reduce and consumer confidence thaws. A cold snap is also imminent. For this reason we are not changing our target price and would buy on weakness.”
Halfords now sees profits for the financial year in the range of £48 million to £53 million, equating to a 5%-6% downgrade on the City consensus. However, the company remains confident in its mid-term plan for £90-£110 million profits as long as conditions stabilise.
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Chief executive Graham Stapleton is particularly encouraged by the strong performance of Autocentres, where significantly improved returns have prompted the company to accelerate capital investment in the garage services operating model.
The group is on track to deliver £30 million of cost savings in this financial year, although the City expects April 2024’s National Living Wage will add £5 million to future assumptions.
Investec Securities cut its 2024/25 forecast by 20% today but has maintained its “buy” recommendation with a lower price target of 235p.
The broker said management had a credible long-term vision to become a one-stop-shop for all vehicle ownership, having set out its plans at a capital markets day in April.
Investec added that delivery of these targets would drive higher profitability, implying a sustainable double-digit earnings per share growth story.
It said: “Neither this longer-term growth opportunity nor the strength of its cash generation is reflected in current valuation, in our view, with the market more focused on the short-term weak macro backdrop and need for better visibility on a market recovery.”
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