Rush for bikes helps Halfords power into profit


Sales at Halfords shifted up a gear in the last quarter of 2020 as the bikes-to-car parts retailer rode a lockdown cycling boom.

Its shares jumped by almost 8 per cent, or 22p, to 299½p after it said that its sales had increased 11.5 per cent in the three months to January 1.

However, the company warned that bike sales were likely to be lower in the next three months of bad weather.

It added that it was still deciding whether to repay the government’s furlough money and would “provide an update when the Covid-19 situation becomes clearer”.

Halfords said that there had been a 35.4 per cent rise in like-for-like cycling sales, below the 49 per cent like-for-like growth in bike sales for the overall financial year so far. “Lockdowns weakened demand and supply chain disruption delayed stock arriving into the business,” it said.

Like-for-like sales of motoring products fell by 8.4 per cent in the third quarter, compared with an 18.2 per cent fall for overall the nine months.

On January 4, England entered its third lockdown. Halfords, which operates 443 stores and 367 repair shops, said that the hit to its motoring business was expected to be less severe than when the economy was first closed down last March, prompting many people to switch to cycling and away from using public transport or cars when the weather was fine.

Jonathan Rock, an analyst at Globaldata, the market research consultancy, said: “The cycling boom, responsible for much of the specialist’s growth this year, has begun to slow down just as it enters this winter decline.” The delay in a decision on furlough money suggested that “this is still necessary to the business”, he said.

Graham Stapleton, chief executive of Halfords, said: “We are pleased to have delivered a strong performance under hugely challenging circumstances, including our best ever Christmas week.”



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Banks sound profit warnings on Covid-19 loan defaults


Companies

Banks sound profit warnings on Covid-19 loan defaults


Co-operative Bank branch along Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

More commercial banks are now projecting a substantial fall in their full-year net profits for 2020 on account of Covid-induced economic disruptions that have weakened borrowers’ ability to repay loans.

Lenders say that they have had to significantly raise loan loss provisioning to reflect the economic fallout facing individuals and firms.

Co-operative Bank of Kenya #ticker:CO-OP has become the latest to inform its investors that it expects a material fall in full year earnings despite revenue from the mainstay business of lending registering a growth.

“Loan loss provisions have been much higher than in the previous year in appreciation of the challenges that businesses and households continue to grapple with in meeting their obligations to the bank,” said the lender.

Banking sector’s ratio of non-performing loans has risen from March’s 12.5 percent to 13.6 percent in October— the highest since August 2007 when it stood at 14.41 percent.

Profit fall will mark a rare cycle for Kenya’s banking sector which has been enjoying growth in earnings despite previous disruptions such as interest rate cap in 2016.

Other lenders that have announced expected decline in earnings include Standard Chartered #ticker:SCBK, Absa #ticker:ABSA, Diamond Trust #ticker:DTB, I&M Holdings #ticker:I&M, and NCBA #ticker:NCBA.

Banks have up to the end of March to release their results that were generated in a business environment that was disrupted since Kenya recording its first Covid-19 case on March 13 last year.

Top banks —KCB #ticker:KCB, Equity #ticker:EQTY, Co-operative, Absa, Stanbic #ticker:SBIC, DTB and StanChart –  saw a combined 30.2 percent or 22.56 billion decline in profitability in the nine months to September 2020.  

KCB contributed 36.7 percent of the fall followed by Absa Kenya (16.12 percent), Equity (10.8 percent) and NCBA with 9.25 percent of the Sh22.56 billion fall. Co-op Bank had the least contribution (4.92 percent) in the drop.

In terms of falls in net profit, Absa took the heaviest hit (65.4 percent), followed by NCBA (45.3 percent), KCB (43.2 percent), Stanchart (30.41 percent) and Stanbic with 30.1 percent dip.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has had to issue a circular asking all banks to revise their capital levels to reflect the prevailing economic hardships before making any dividend payment decision.

“The duration and extent of the pandemic remains uncertain and it is critical that these institutions remain resilient by strengthening their balance sheets through additional capital and adequate liquidity,” said CBK in mid-August.

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Investors told Xinja would make $138m profit by fiscal 2026


“Australia provides Xinja with a profitable and strongly regulated banking sector in which to prove its technology capabilities, generate strong earnings, and rapidly deploy and test technology innovations for markets around the globe,” it said.

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However, Xinja’s investor update from October made no mention of global expansion plans and the company had previously told retail shareholders it was focusing on building its Australian operations after reports flagged Malaysia and India operations could be on the cards.

“Actually this is a bit of a furphy. We’ve got no plans to expand into Malaysia or India specifically. We’re still trying to expand into Australia!”, Xinja said in January in a since-deleted community forum.

The investor presentation said Xinja’s revenue could be even higher than the nine-figures predicted within five years when Xinja could charge “referral fees” after it launched financial products in insurance, superannuation, investment, wealth and robo-advice.

Investor Brett Caldwell, who bought into Xinja’s capital raise in mid-2018, said he regularly engaged with the company’s shareholder groups but had never heard of any plans from Xinja to expand into these industries.

“The only ones I’ve heard them talk about is Dabble, the share trading platform, and also a neobank consulting business, we all had a bit of a laugh at – if you’re going to take advice of how to do a neobank, you wouldn’t really choose Xinja,” Mr Caldwell said.

The investor document, first circulated in April, also provided an update on the $US250 million ($331 million) lifeline payment from Dubai’s World Investments group, claiming it had been held back due to regulatory delays but should materialise in August this year.

“None of the parties believe there is any reason to suggest full approvals will not be forthcoming.”

That money ultimately never arrived and Xinja has since closed all bank accounts and is in the process of returning deposits to customers.

Xinja said in a statement that it did have aspirations to expand its products and global footprint “but not in the short term which was the time frame covered by the roadmap”.

First Penny Investments staff were encouraged to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in Xinja through the company’s own fund, the MPP Fund, which would be an investment vehicle to fund start-ups.

First Penny Investments chief Michael Gale said the investor presentation was not made by his company. “I therefore can’t comment on the veracity of the data in it nor the reliability of your source.”

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Dollarama to give workers up to $300 cash bonus after posting higher profit


Dollarama Inc. said it will pay a bonus to employees for their work during the pandemic as it raised its dividend and reported a higher third-quarter profit that beat analyst expectations.

The discount chain had come under fire earlier this year from employees and their supporters who demanded that Dollarama enact greater health precautions in its warehouses and extend the pay raise it offered to employees at the start of the pandemic.

“I wish to recognize our people for their efforts and dedication as the pandemic has become our new reality and with COVID-19 safety measures now part of our everyday operating procedures,” Dollarama president and CEO Neil Rossy said in a statement Wednesday.

Under this year’s bonus program, full-time employees will receive $300, while part-time workers will receive $200.

The one-time payment comes as the retailer raised its quarterly dividend to 4.7 cents per share, up from 4.4 cents.

In March, Dollarama extended wage increases to its store and warehouse employees, but ended the pandemic pay program in August, a month and a half later than expected. Dollarama said in September that the wage increase cost the company roughly $11 million in its second quarter.

At a demonstration in August protesting the end of the pay raise, Dollarama employees described inconsistent adherence to health measures at company facilities and said it was not possible to maintain physical distancing inside its warehouses.

Discount stores such as Dollarama have fared well during the pandemic, as consumers spend less on discretionary items but continue to buy food and household essentials.

On a call with analysts Wednesday, Rossy said Dollarama’s performance in the third quarter was boosted by strong demand for seasonal products such as Halloween items.

Rossy added that sales of seasonal items, particularly during the next two weeks of holiday shopping, will be crucial to the company’s bottom line in the fourth quarter.

Still, with an uptick in virus cases prompting new restrictions in Canada, Dollarama executives cautioned that government measures restricting store capacity could hurt the company’s sales even though it has been deemed an essential service in Ontario and Quebec.

Dollarama earned $161.9 million or 52 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Nov. 1, up from $138.6 million or 44 cents per diluted share in the same quarter last year.

Sales totalled $1.06 billion, up from $947.6 million in the same quarter last year, as shoppers reduced the frequency of store visits, but bought more when they did visit the stores.

Comparable store sales rose 7.1 per cent, as the number of transactions fell 15.2 per cent, but the average transaction size climbed 26.3 per cent.

Analysts on the earnings call asked about the potential for Dollarama to expand its merchandise to cover higher price points, such as $4.50 and $5, but Rossy said the company was not ready to offer products at those prices for the time being.

However, Rossy noted that the costs of raw materials and freight are increasing, which could force Dollarama to raise prices on some goods to maintain its margins.

Dollarama expects to open between 60 and 65 net new stores before the end of 2020, Rossy said.



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Profit Keeps Corporate Leaders Honest


The World Economic Forum knows never to let a good crisis go to waste. The organization behind the famous conference of politicians, executives, celebrities and “thought leaders” at Davos is now promoting an initiative called “The Great Reset.” The idea is to repackage shibboleths of the technocratic center-left for the marketing opportunity presented by Covid-19.

Quite a few of these policies are dangerous, but one deserves special attention: stakeholder capitalism.

Apple,

Facebook,

IBM

and

Walmart,

all listed as corporate partners on the World Economic Forum website, are evidently on board with a vague and open-ended mandate for corporations to do good in the world. Yet beneath the lofty rhetoric, stakeholder capitalism is mostly a front for irresponsible corporatism. It is an attempt to siphon off cash flow from productive uses to advance the mission of “global governance” and create corporate and government sinecures for cronies along the way.

Milton Friedman

famously fixed the modern paradigm of shareholder capitalism in a 1970 article. Writing against the dangers he perceived in popular notions of corporate social responsibility, Friedman argued that the chief duty of business was “to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception fraud.” Friedman noted correctly that, in a market economy, profits represent value created for customers. In their capacity as corporate officers, businessmen could do the most good by focusing on their bottom lines.

The self-perceived aristoi of Western liberal democracies hated this argument and have fought it ever since. Business leaders, eager to avoid the moral taint of greed, have often led the anti-Friedman coalition. In 2019 the CEOs of the Business Roundtable released a statement affirming that they “endeavor every day to create value for all our stakeholders, whose long-term interests are inseparable.” By stakeholders they mean “customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”

As National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford notes, this vision of wide-ranging corporate beneficence introduces a host of principal-agent problems in ordinary business decision-making. Profit is a concrete and clarifying metric that allows shareholders—owners—to hold executives accountable for their performance. Adding multiple goals not related to profit introduces needless confusion.

This is no accident. Stakeholder capitalism is used as a way to obfuscate what counts as success in business. By focusing less on profits and more on vague social values, “enlightened” executives will find it easier to avoid accountability even as they squander business resources. While trying to make business about “social justice” is always concerning, the contemporary conjunction of stakeholder theory and woke capitalism makes for an especially dangerous and accountability-thwarting combination.

Better to avoid it. Since profits result from increasing revenue and cutting costs, businesses that put profits first have to work hard to give customers more while using less. In short, profits are an elegant and parsimonious way of promoting efficiency within a business as well as society at large.

Stakeholder capitalism ruptures this process. When other goals compete with the mandate to maximize returns, the feedback loop created by profits gets weaker. Lower revenues and higher costs no longer give owners and corporate officers the information they need to make hard choices. The result is increased internal conflict: Owners will jockey among themselves for the power to determine the corporation’s priorities. Corporate officers will be harder to discipline, because poor performance can always be justified by pointing to broader social goals. And the more these broader goals take precedence, the more businesses will use up scarce resources to deliver diminishing benefits to customers.

Given these problems, why would prominent corporations sign on to the Great Reset? Some people within the organizations may simply prefer that firms take politically correct stances and don’t consider the cost. Others may think it looks good in a press release and will never go anywhere. A third group may aspire to jobs in government and see championing corporate social responsibility as a bridge.

Finally, there are those who think they can benefit personally from the reduced corporate efficiency. As businesses redirect cash flow from profit-directed uses to social priorities, lucrative positions of management, consulting, oversight and more will have to be created. They’ll fill them. This is rent-seeking, enabled by the growing confluence of business and government, and enhanced by contemporary social pieties.

The World Economic Forum loves to discuss the need for “global governance,” but the Davos crowd knows this type of social engineering can’t be achieved by governments alone. Multinational corporations are increasingly independent authorities. Their cooperation is essential.

Endorsements of stakeholder capitalism should be viewed against this backdrop. If it is widely adopted, the predictable result will be atrophied corporate responsibility as business leaders behave increasingly like global bureaucrats. Stakeholder capitalism is today a means of acquiring corporate buy-in to the Davos political agenda.

Friedman knew well the kind of corporate officer who protests too much against profit-seeking: “Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” He was right then, and he is right now. We should reject stakeholder capitalism as a misconception of the vocation of business. If we don’t defend shareholder capitalism vigorously, we’ll see firsthand that there are many more insidious things businesses can pursue than profit.

Mr. Salter is an associate professor of economics in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University, a fellow at Texas Tech’s Free Market Institute, and a senior fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research’s Sound Money Project.

In this excerpt from a lecture titled “Is Capitalism Humane” delivered at Cornell University in 1978, Milton Friedman answers a question on self-interest and the morality of corporations pursuing profits. Image: CSU Archives/Everett Collection

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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Ulta Beauty Delivers $75 Million Profit For Q3 Despite Downtrend In Sales


In the Q3 Ulta Beauty

ULTA
earnings call the company reported a positive net profit of $75 million for the third quarter ending October 31st which was down 42% compared to the same period last year. However, with the continuing challenges facing the retail industry due to the coronavirus pandemic (compounded by a surge in cases for fall) the results are deemed good. While sales were down 8.9%, the results exceeded the company’s expectations. 

The average spend across customers was up 7.6%, driven by an increase in the number of units being purchased. Store traffic was soft, however, e-commerce sales were up 90% compared to last year. Buy online and pickup in store equated to 16% of e-commerce sales, doubling the penetration from last year. Inventory decreased by 11% compared to last year, as the company adjusted to current consumer demand and reduced holiday receipts. 

Consumers focused on self-care

Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty, stated in the call, “Increased interest for home skincare treatments as well as newness in innovation, in body treatments, face serums and eye creams are driving strong category growth.” Ulta Beauty customers continue to maintain their skincare routines and wellness programs as a part of their self-care during the pandemic. DIY products are also driving purchasing including in-home hair coloring and one-step hair styling tools. 

Positive signs for store traffic

Store traffic trends improved compared to prior quarters and Dillon said in the call, “Our consumer insights and results continue to confirm that our members prefer to shop in physical stores for beauty even as they have increased their adoption of online shopping.” While traffic improved, continued restrictions due to COVID continued to severely impact salon services, which dropped 30% in the third quarter compared to last year. 

32 million active members in Ulta Rewards

Ulta Rewards continues to be a strong driver of sales with members in the highest loyalty categories (diamond and platinum). However, the company experienced a drop of 6% in Ultimate Reward members compared to the third quarter of last year. The company is focused on re-engagement and new member acquisition as store closures earlier in the year impacted some previously active users. 

Five-pillar strategy moves the brand forward

Ulta is focused on five strategies that will continue to evolve the brand and deepen customer loyalty: Omnichannel (seamless experience for shoppers), product discovery, curated product assortments, Ulta Rewards program and a cost-efficient store labor model. 

Omnichannel experience is a primary goal with enhancements to curbside, the Ulta Beauty App and fulfillment center expansions. Curbside parking has been expanded, signage has been refreshed and new curbside notification technology has been deployed. The Ulta Beauty App has been upgraded to include store-specific occupancy levels for greater safety and transparency for shoppers. A new booking tool helps customers with appointments for salon services. Additional fulfillment locations have opened and operations in existing centers have expanded. Dillon stated, “These investments have increased our e-commerce shipping capacity and will improve delivery speed.” 

Product discovery, a hallmark of the beauty retailer’s brand ethos, has been expanded to include higher technological applications. GLAMlab, the Ulta Beauty virtual try-on app, has been enhanced with skin analysis tools and more precise personalized product recommendations. The app allows for guests to save analyses and view historical changes over time. The company is testing one-on-one video consultations across all beauty categories to help with product selection and further deepen the customer experience.

Curated beauty assortments is focussed on exclusivity and leading brands. The company launched Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty, a program providing greater transparency about products that are delivered in sustainable packaging and contain ingredients that are pure, cruelty-free and vegan. Additionally, Ulta Beauty is highlighting brands that have initiatives demonstrating a positive impact on communities. The Conscious Beauty Advisory Council was developed by Ulta Beauty to bring together a coalition of experts at the forefront of clean beauty, product development and packaging sustainability. 

The company continues to use data analytics within the Ulta Rewards program to create personalized offers and recommendations. The drop in active members in the third quarter has created a need to reactivate members to pre-pandemic levels and focus on a higher return on promotions. 

In an effort to create a more cost-efficient store labor model, Ulta Beauty has made some organizational changes including a restructuring of store positions. The company also announced that it is suspending its expansion into Canada. 

Target + Ulta Beauty is a big win for both companies

Ulta Beauty and Target announced in a joint press release last month that they will be embarking on a strategic partnership in 2021 which is expected to significantly benefit both companies. Dillon discussed from an Ulta Beauty perspective, it’s beauty authority and deep understanding of the beauty category coupled with Target’s scale of business operations will be beneficial to the over 100 million loyalty customers.



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Western Bulldogs post $1.8m profit in AFL


The Western Bulldogs have posted a $1.8 million profit but the AFL club’s president is warning of possible financial setbacks because of COVID-19.

Bulldogs president Peter Gordon says the club’s 2020 financial result is the fifth consecutive year of profits of more than $1m.

Gordon described the 2020 result as “significantly better than we first expected when the pandemic hit”.

“We know that coronavirus could still have an impact on the club into the future and there could be further setbacks,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“We have undertaken a significant amount of planning for 2021, including considering a number of potential scenarios for the year ahead.

“This will be managed closely across the year to ensure we can again move quickly to make prudent financial decisions as required.”

The latest profit came despite the Bulldogs losing about 6000 members from last year’s total of about 44,000.

“Thirty-eight thousand of our members stood by us this year despite not being able to attend any games,” he said.

“Their loyalty played a significant role in the financial outcome we achieved.

“We understand the position of many other loyal members whose financial position did not allow them to extend their usual support.”





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Elders Ltd reports increased profit despite tough trading conditions


Despite drought, fires and COVID-19, Australian agribusiness Elders has reported $123 million statutory profit in the 12 months to September.

Those results were an 80 per cent increase on the previous financial year, and as a result, the South Australia-based company will pay a fully-franked final dividend of 13 cents per share, taking the total dividends paid for the year to 22 cents.

The underlying profit after tax was $109 million.

Managing director and CEO Mark Allison attributed the outcome to the company’s long-term strategy.

“We took a call back in the first eight-point plan that for agriculture we need to have the costs and capital base to allow us to make good money in bad years, and the great money in good years,” Mr Allison said.

“Last year is an example of a bad year where we did quite well under difficult circumstances and this year, once we established agriculture as an essential industry … we were able to do everything we could to support regional and rural Australia.”

That meant the company was able to continue trading during COVID-19: It increased its workforce and did not rely on any Government support through JobKeeper.

There has been some movement within the company with Elders putting on 417 additional staff and purchasing rural supplies wholesaler Australian Independent Rural Retailers (AIRR) and crop protection company Titan.

AIRR added $44 million in wholesale gross margins in the company’s results which Mr Allison said was in excess of projections.

Elders financial year ends on September 30.

Elders Managing Director Mark Allison(Supplied: Elders)

2021 Outlook

With summer plantings expected to increase and the prospect of rain, Mr Allison said demand for crop protection and fertiliser would likely recover.

Mr Allison said from an agricultural, seasonal and commodity viewpoint the outlook was positive with cattle prices expected to remain high, if softer than 2020.

Elders was working on the assumption that reduced consumer demand for clothing and increased levels of unsold textiles and raw fibres would probably suppress wool prices in the short term.

Mr Allison also viewed the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a benefit to the agribusiness.

“If you see that as additional market access and opportunity to diversify our product.

He explained that the company already had strong market relationships with Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and China.



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Elders’ profit and dividends up as farms rebound from drought


Elders’ result is in stark contrast to the performance of many other ASX-listed companies throughout 2020, with many forced to withdraw earnings guidance, pause dividends and raise capital as demand for their products slumped due to COVID-19.

Elders chief executive Mark Allison said the company’s performance was an example of the business delivering “great returns in good years”.

He also said it reflected Elders’ nimble response to challenges that arose during the year, the implementation of a sound business strategy, solid business foundations and strict financial discipline.

“Our financial year 2020 results highlight the resilience of our business, the benefits of our diversification across both geographies and products, and our acquisition strategy,” he said.

During the year Elders completed the purchase of another farm supplies business known as AIRR. The purchase added $44 million in wholesale gross margin to the company’s results.

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Revenue rose 29 per cent to $2.09 billion, which was just ahead of Bloomberg consensus at $2.06 billion.

Elders’ share price has surged through 2020, closing at $11.87 on Friday, up 83.5 per cent over the calendar year. The S&P/ASX200 meanwhile is down 4.2 per cent over the same period.

Elders’ financial year ends on September 30.



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JG Summit ‘cautiously optimistic’ after posting P844-M profit


By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter

JG SUMMIT Holdings, Inc. returned to profitability as it posted a third-quarter net income of P844.1 million for its equity holders, reversing the previous quarter’s losses but still way below last year’s earnings.

The Gokongwei-led firm said better contributions from its petrochemicals and real estate units allowed it to record improved quarterly results.

JG Summit President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei said he is “cautiously optimistic” despite projecting that weaker consumer sentiment will continue to be a factor for the company’s products and services in the near term.

His optimism comes after the holding firm managed to move from its first-half losses of P720.25 million when the second-quarter net loss reached P2.62 billion. But the improved third-quarter bottomline is still far from the P3.68-billion income in the same period last year.

Mr. Gokongwei said he was “encouraged” by the company’s results for the third quarter, despite the economic challenges brought by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“With the easing of restrictions, economic activity has slowly returned and our different business units showed some quarter on quarter recovery but I also note that these results are far from ideal and still showed steep declines versus a year ago,” he said.

“The prospects of a vaccine likewise give us hope that this will unlock further acceleration and recovery towards the latter part of 2021,” he added.

For a nine-month period, JG Summit’s net income amounted to P123.85 million, down from P21.07 billion a year ago, while its consolidated revenues fell 27% year-on-year to P167.3 billion.

JG Summit’s petrochemicals unit, JG Petrochemicals Group, posted a third-quarter net income of P772 million due to lower naphtha prices that are used in production.

For a nine-month period, it recorded a net loss of P1.9 billion and revenues of P14.5 billion. The company’s food unit, Universal Robina Corp., registered a net income of P7.5 billion for the three quarters, a 7% increase from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Robinsons Land Corp. posted a net income of P717 million for the third quarter due to stronger showing from its malls, hotels, and residential businesses, coupled with the sustained expansion in its office and warehouse leasing units.

For a nine-month period, the property company recorded a 31% drop in its net income to P4.4 billion due to additional depreciation from newly opened properties and interest expenses on newly issued loans.

Cebu Pacific Air, Inc. trimmed its net loss for the third quarter to P5.5 billion due to savings on operations and fuel consumption.

For a nine-month period, the budget airline ended with a net loss of P14.7 billion, with revenues declining 70% to P19.3 billion.

“Passenger revenues were down 74% while ancillaries decreased by 69% due to lower passenger volumes. The limitations on frequency of flights and varying requirements and processes from local government units continue to be a challenge,” the disclosure said.

JG Summit’s banking unit, Robinsons Bank Corp., reported a net income of P786 million for a nine-month period due to a 14% increase in its revenues to P6.9 billion.

On Friday, shares in JG Summit were unchanged at P72 per piece.










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