Why Woolworths Limited shareholders are holding their breath

Credit: Woolworths

With the share price of leading supermarket operator Woolworths Limited (ASX: WOW) slumping around 11% since the group released its full year profit results for the financial year (FY) ending 30 June 2015, it would be understandable if many shareholders are just a little anxious about the upcoming half-year results.

These interim results are scheduled for release on February 25. Here’s what shareholders know so far…

The FY 2015 results showed a 0.2% decline in sales to $60.7 billion, a reduction in earnings per share of 0.7% to 195.2 cents per share (cps), a 1.5% increase in dividends per share to 130 cps and a 1.25% drop in return on average funds employed to 25.7%.

The outlook statement provided at the time of the FY 2015 results release in August noted:

“As previously disclosed, we will not provide profit guidance for FY16. We expect investment in price and service to continue to exceed cost savings with the impact of this pronounced in H1’16 as we look to restore the rate of comparable sales growth in our Australian Food business.”

In late October, Woolworths released its first quarter trading update which also included a first half earnings update. This was an important announcement as unlike the prior guidance given back in August, this guidance included a specified profit range. Here’s what the Chairman, Mr Gordon Cairns said:

“Given the significant change underway across all our businesses, it is important to be transparent about the impact of these changes to our H1’16 outlook. As a consequence of our increased investments described above, we currently expect Group Net Profit After Tax of $900 million to $1.0 billion for H1’16, 28% – 35% lower than H1’15 Group Net Profit After Tax before significant items.”

Second half in focus

With Woolworths holding its annual general meeting in late November, at which time the CEO confirmed that the company was “tracking in line with our forecast”, investors can be reasonably confident that the group will indeed report an interim profit result between $900 million to $1 billion.

What is less clear is what the second half looks like and hence what the full year result will be. Given the pressures on the business, the higher expense levels and the decision to discontinue with the hardware strategy, investors will be keen for more guidance about the outlook for Woolworths.

Based on analyst consensus data provided by Morningstar, earnings per share are expected to decline to 141.5 cps in FY 2016 and decline further to 139.7 cps in FY 2017.

Why These 3 Blue Chip Shares Look Set to Soar in 2016

Discover The Motley Fool's top 3 blue chips for 2016. These 3 'new breed' shares pay fully franked dividends AND offer the very real prospect of significant capital appreciation. Simply click here to gain access to this comprehensive FREE investment report.

No credit card required.

Motley Fool contributor Tim McArthur has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

Two New Stock Picks Every Month!

Not to alarm you, but you’re about to miss a very important event! Chief Investment Advisor Scott Phillips and his team at Motley Fool Share Advisor are about to reveal their latest official stock recommendation. The premium “buy alert” will be unveiled to members and you can be among the first to act on the tip.

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by – this is your chance to get in early!

Simply enter your email now to find out how you can get instant access.

By clicking this button, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. We will use your email address only to keep you informed about updates to our website and about other products and services we think might interest you. You can unsubscribe from Take Stock at anytime. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information.