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Meal-kit delivery company's stock plunges to four-year low on U.S. woes

By Jamie Chisholm

Mars offers big premium to buy Hotel Chocolat

HelloFresh shares plunged more than a fifth on Thursday after the German meal-kit delivery group delivered a profit warning on weaker-than-expected sales growth and higher costs at its North American division.

In a statement after the market closed on Wednesday, HelloFresh (XE:HFG) said revenue in the U.S was impacted by a slow expansion of production at its ready-to-eat facility in Arizona due to water supply and staff shortages. Costs were also increased by longer-than-expected maintenance works at its Illinois site.

As a result, HelloFresh now expects adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for this year to be between EUR430 million and EUR470 million ($466 million-$510 million), down from its previous guidance of between EUR470 million and EUR540 million.

HelloFresh said the problems at the U.S facilities had mostly been resolved and it did not believe the issue would materially impact 2024 results. Investors were not so sanguine, however, pushing HelloFresh's Frankfurt-listed shares down 23% to their lowest since November 2019.

Nizla Nazier, analyst at Deutsche Bank, downgraded HelloFresh shares from buy to hold with her price target moving from EUR41 to EUR26. "[W]e move to the sidelines until we see the ready-to-eat business factor start to more meaningfully contribute to the group top-line and we see the North American meal-kit business return to steady growth," she said.

Shares of Ocado (UK:OCDO), a U.K. food-delivery service, fell 5%, and Just Eat Takeaway stock (NL:TKWY) fell 3%.

The mood across the broader European market was more mixed with Germany's DAX DX:DAX adding 0.4%, helped by the results of industrial giant Siemens (XE:SIE) beating expectations , while the CAC 40 in France was down 0.4% and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 UK:UKX lost 0.5%.

The Paris bourse's decline reflected weakness in luxury goods companies after London-listed Burberry's stock (UK:BRBY) dropped 10% on a profit warning.

"The shine is dimming on the luxury sector as even higher-end consumers tighten their belts," said Sophie Lund-Yates, lead equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Burberry has done pretty much all it can to place itself in a better position, both operationally and creatively. The issue is that while it's a slicker and bolder beast, Burberry is currently residing in a hostile environment outside of its control," she added.

The stand out performer on Thursday was London-listed Hotel Chocolat (UK:HOTC), whose shares surged 162% after agreeing to be bought by Mars in a deal valued at about GBP534 million ($661 million).

Hotel Chocolat, which makes high-end cocoa-based confectionery and sells it in shops across the U.K, is the latest in a line of small to mid-cap British companies snapped up by overseas buyers, noted Russ Mould, AJ Bell investment director.

But this time the target was not being taken out on the cheap. "The fact Mars is willing to pay a 170% premium for the shares is remarkable on two accounts. First, bid premiums are typically in the 25% to 50% range so Mars paying so much more would suggest it has taken a long-term view of what the business is worth," said Mould

"Second, it suggests that Mars has spotted an opportunity and there is no way it wants to waste time with a low-ball bid. This looks like going in with its best offer with the hope of wrapping up the transaction as quickly as possible."

-Jamie Chisholm

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

11-16-23 0826ET

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