Belfast Telegraph

TalkTalk shares plummet after investor payouts slashed

Shares in TalkTalk have plummeted after the broadband provider slashed investor payouts and warned over earnings as it embarks on an investment drive to attract more customers.

The group's stock sunk by as much as 17% after it cut this year's final dividend from 10.58p to 5p and flagged that full-year earnings in 2017-18 would come in lower, as it spends more money on marketing.

The FTSE 250 firm said next year's earnings would hit between £270 million and £300 million, while annual earnings for this year fell short of expectations despite growing by 17% to £304 million.

It came as the company's new bosses saw annual pre-tax profits jump to £70 million, up from £14 million last year, after suffering a hefty financial blow linked to a cyber attack two years ago.

Its customer base also returned to growth, expanding by 22,000 in the fourth quarter, while churn - the number of customers leaving the provider - dropped to 1.4% from 1.64% over the period.

Executive chairman Sir Charles Dunstone said his focus for the company was "growth, cash generation and profit - in that order".

He said: "We will be smart about how we invest, focusing on our fixed network, avoiding other capital intensive distractions.

"In light of these new priorities, we have also decided to reset the dividend as we look to deliver growth and strong sustainable shareholder returns over the long term."

Total revenue slipped 3% to £1.8 billion in the 12 months to the end of March this year, but the group said more than one million customers had signed up to new plans.

The results come as Tristia Harrison replaces Dido Harding as chief executive in a shake-up that has seen Sir Charles step up from chairman to executive chairman.

Ms Harrison said: "The last 12 months have seen the business lay down solid foundations from which to drive sustainable base and revenue growth in both our retail and B2B businesses."

Under Ms Harding's watch, TalkTalk was stung by a cyber attack in 2015, which saw the personal data of nearly 160,000 people accessed by hackers.

The debacle was branded a ''car crash'' by the then information commissioner Christopher Graham, who said it should send a warning shot to the industry.

The attack led to tens of thousands of customers deserting the firm and cost it £ 60 million.