NAHL (AIM: NAH), the leading UK consumer marketing and services business focused on the UK legal services market, is today providing a trading update for the year ended 31 December 2018.
The Group has had a disappointing end to the year. Consequently profits and adjusted earnings per share* for Financial Year 2018 are expected to be between 5 and 10 per cent below Board expectations.
As previously referenced, the Personal Injury (PI) division has seen an ongoing decline in panel law firm demand as a result of the forthcoming regulatory changes. In addition, the Residential Property (RP) division continued to be impacted by the state of the housing market.
In the fourth quarter, heightened competitor activity in the PI division depressed enquiry volumes and increased consumer acquisition cost. Based on previous year’s performance, we believed that the division’s performance during December would mitigate this trend, although this proved not to be the case. This, coupled with a persistently difficult housing market, has resulted in a 2018 performance below expectations.
Our 2019 plans include initiatives that will address our competitive position, namely:
- Investment in brand recognition and further digital marketing activity in our PI division which will enhance our competitiveness although we recognise that the competitor landscape may continue to be challenging.
- In the RP division the new leadership team has implemented several strategic initiatives designed to return the business to growth in 2019.
The Group is well positioned to capitalise on the forthcoming regulatory changes and the Group’s PI transformation programme is progressing well, including our ABS ventures which are trading profitably. The Group has received notification from the SRA that its ABS application for a wholly-owned law firm will be granted, which is a major step forward in NAHL’s transition strategy.
The Group has continued to carefully manage its balance sheet and net debt at the end of 2018 was £15.5m, which was lower than expected. The Board expects to pay a final dividend for 2018 which, combined with the interim dividend, will maintain our policy of a total dividend covered twice by earnings per share.
From a regulatory perspective the Civil Liabilities Bill received royal assent on 20 December 2018 with implementation still planned for April 2020. No material alterations were made to the bill and the Group awaits clarification around how it will be implemented.
The Group’s Critical Care division has continued to make good progress, trading in line with the Board’s expectations.
NAHL will announce its Final Results for the year ended 31 December 2018 on 19 March 2019.
Russell Atkinson, CEO of NAHL, commented:
“Progress in Critical Care has been encouraging and, although market conditions have challenged our Residential Property business, we have plans in place to return to growth. Despite a disappointing December, our Personal Injury business continues to make strong progress in its transformation agenda and our focus remains the creation of a market leading enquiry generation and volume processing business.”
* Underlying earnings per share adjusts for share-based payments, amortisation of intangible assets on business combinations and exceptional items.