Rolls-Royce tumbles to record 4.6 billion pounds loss

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FILE PHOTO - A Rolls-Royce logo is seen at the company's aerospace engineering and development site in Bristol, Britain, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
By Paul Sandle | LONDON

LONDON Rolls-Royce (RR.L) suffered a record headline loss of 4.6 billion pounds on Tuesday as a fine to settle bribery charges and the collapse in the pound from Brexit capped a difficult few years for the British aero engine maker.

Already reshaping its business after a series of profit warnings, Rolls said it needed to cut more costs after its underlying profit halved to 813 million pounds last year — a result that was better than analysts’ expectations.

Chief Executive Warren East, brought in to restructure the group in 2015, said the business portfolio was “broadly correct”, but he needed to review 20 percent of its operations, and would decide on further actions in the coming months.

Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for wide-body civil jets, and defence and marine customers, said it expected “modest performance improvements” this year and would aim to keep its free cash flow at a similar level to 2016.

“While we have made good progress in our cost cutting and efficiency programmes, more needs to be done to ensure we drive sustainable margin improvements within the business,” East said.

Last year, the group halved its dividend to shore up its finances, the first cut in the payout for 24 years.

It kept the dividend at the same level this time, a move it said would allow it to maintain a degree of flexibility in its balance sheet.

BIG CHARGE

The drop in the pound against the dollar resulted in a 4.4 billion pound non-cash charge on its hedging book, which increased to $38 billion. Most aircraft deals are priced in dollars, forcing Rolls-Royce to hedge future income.

The headline loss also included the 671 million pounds it agreed to pay to settle bribery investigations in Britain, the United States and Brazil last month. The sum is payable over five years, but Rolls-Royce has taken the full charge now.

Shares in the company, which have risen 50 percent from the five-year-lows hit in early February 2016, reversed early gains to trade down 2.6 percent at 721 pence at 0855 GMT.

Analyst Andy Chambers at Edison Investment Research said that ignoring the headline loss, the underlying performance of Rolls-Royce was ahead of both its own and market expectations.

On the dividend decision, he said “this might be considered a little conservative following the pain shareholders have suffered in the last few years”.

Rolls said it was well under way with its transformation programme, achieving 60 million pounds in savings in 2016, and was on track for its 2017 targets too.

In its troubled marine division, which has been hit by weak demand from shipping and energy customers, it took a 200 million pound goodwill impairment to reflect a more cautious outlook.

The group has also been hit by a slowdown in high-margin aircraft engine servicing, in part caused by reduced use of older aircraft, and lower sales of its Trent 700 engine that powers the Airbus A330, which is being superseded by the A330neo.

(Editing by Keith Weir)

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