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Troubled Co-op returns to profit

Co-op has posted a return to profit but warned that its members will have to wait until 2018 for a resumption in dividend payments.

The troubled mutual, which last year reported a loss of £2.3 billion due to the near collapse of its banking arm, benefited from the sale of its farms and pharmacy operations as it posted a net profit of £216 million for 2014.

Without the disposals the Co-op would, at best, have broken even, chief executive Richard Pennycook said.

He added that the Co-op had completed the rescue phase of its turnaround but said that a resumption of dividend payments was unlikely until after the rebuilding phase completes at the end of 2017.

Mr Pennycook said: " The hard work of rebuilding the Co-operative Group for the next generation, and restoring it to its rightful place at the heart of communities up and down the UK, is now under way."

The Co-op is the UK's largest mutual business, owned by more than eight million members. It is the UK's fifth biggest food retailer with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.

Co-op's debt reduced to £808 million from £1.4 billion a year earlier, despite the cost of boosting the capital strength of its former banking arm, which is now 20% owned by the mutual following a rescue by bondholders.

Former Asda boss Allan Leighton, whose father ran a Co-op store, was recently announced as the society's first independent non-executive chairman under its reformed governance structure.

Mr Leighton is currently working on the establishment of a new board, composed of a majority of independent directors.

Their appointment is expected ahead of the group's AGM in May, with further elected directors set to join the board following the meeting. About 2.9 million of its eight million members are eligible to vote at the AGM having met the minimum level of qualifying purchases.

The Co-op said its food business delivered a robust performance last year, with like-for-like sales up 0.4% overall as underlying profits increased 1.5% to £251 million.

The group acquired 82 new convenience stores and refurbished more than 700 stores during the period. It aims to add another 100 in the current year.

In Funeralcare, sales fell by £7 million in a year affected by a low death rate, although efficiencies meant underlying profits rose by 6% to £66 million.

The Co-op's home and motor insurance business posted an underlying loss of £7 million, compared with a profit of £36 million in 2013, after revenues were impacted by lower industry premiums and a move to exit low-profit areas.

It warned that conditions were expected to remain challenging in general insurance over the next 12 to 18 months but that the coming year for Funeralcare should be less challenging as it moves to add a further 40 branches and continues investing in upgrading its IT systems.

The sale of three businesses during the year - farms, pharmacy and Sunwin Services - raised £900 million towards repairing the mutual's balance sheet.


From Belfast Telegraph