Vocus tumbles 30% after profit warning

Vocus Group shares plunged 30 per cent following the telco’s second profit warning in six months, as management grapple with a raft of problems following its rapid expansion.

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The owner of internet providers dodo and iPrimus blamed the latest downgrade on a range of issues, including revenue delays on major project contracts and lower earnings from its recently launched New Zealand energy retail business.

Lower than forecast billings and higher staff and technology costs were also a factor.

In an announcement after Tuesday’s market close, Vocus warned its annual underlying earnings would fall by as much as 19 per cent, to between $365 million and $375 million.

In November the company downgraded earnings expectation to between $430 million to $450 million.

Underlying profit after tax could drop by as much as 26 per cent to between $160 million and $165 million, compared to its previous forecast of $205 million to $215 million.

Vocus also said annual revenue would be about $1.8 billion, down from its previous estimate of $1.9 billion.

The company has grown rapidly by buying national fibre telecom network Nextgen Networks, and rival M2 Group last year, plus Amcom Telecommunications in 2015.

Morningstar senior equity analyst Brian Han described the trading update as “distressing”, raising serious doubts about the group’s financial controls and systems.

“While steps are being taken to improve in these areas, it is abundantly clear Vocus has bitten off more than it can chew with its recent spate of mergers and acquisitions,” he said.

“Reporting and technology systems are woefully inadequate for what is a major player in the telecom big leagues.”

Financial services firm Patersons Securities said in a research note that Vocus’ $3.75 billion tie-up with M2 has “turned into something of a poison merger”, with Vocus losing more than two-thirds of its value in the past year.

Vocus shares dropped 30 per cent to a three-and-a-half year low of $2.35 during Wednesday’s session, and ended the day 91 cents weaker, or 27 per cent, at $2.44.

That slashed the group’s market value by $565 million to $1.5 billion.