Kerry Group warns of 'extreme' impact from no-deal Brexit

Kerry Group expects the UK to leave the EU in an orderly manner but has warned its earnings growth could be damaged by wavering consumer demand in Britain, as a consequence of Brexit.

It warned that the financial impact of a no-deal Brexit would be "extreme" and said that a planned restructuring of its UK operations could lead to job cuts there.

The Tralee-headquartered food and ingredients group said its "fundamental assumption" is that there will be an orderly Brexit, but that it still sees a no-deal scenario as being a grave threat.

Chief executive Edmond Scanlon said the impact of a hard Brexit on UK consumer demand is the company's biggest concern and there is "a very uncertain environment" in the British consumer food market at present.

Kerry expects earnings per share to grow by as much as 10% this year on the back of a strong 2018, but said the main risk to its targets is a Brexit-related dip in consumer confidence in the UK.

Both group revenue and trading profit for last year rose by just over 3% - to €6.6bn and €805.6m respectively. Adjusted earnings per share were up by 8.6% at 353.4c.

"While there continues to be uncertainty with respect to the outcome of the UK's exit from the EU, Kerry currently anticipates that a managed transition will be the most likely outcome of the negotiations," the group said.

The group has mitigation plans in place to limit the potential short-term implications of a no-deal scenario.

The group added that while it remains cautious on "the UK consumer landscape" it is confident of continuing to outperform that market this year.

In its most UK-focused division, consumer foods - where it owns brands such as Denny, Dairygold, Richmond sausages, and Cheestrings - Kerry upped revenue by 1.1% last year to over €1.3bn. The key taste and nutrition division delivered 4.1% revenue growth to over €5.3bn, by comparison.

However, total shareholder return fell by 6.8%, due to a decline in global equity markets on the back of Brexit and trade uncertainties.

Kerry's shares fell by over 2.5% yesterday.

Kerry is set to spend up to €30m on restructuring its consumer foods operations. The investment will go on "realigning" its footprint in Britain and splitting its private label and branded goods lines into two separate business divisions.

The group currently has 25 manufacturing facilities in the UK. Mr Scanlon said job losses in the UK could not be ruled out as part of the restructuring.

Kerry spent €843m on ten acquisitions last year - two of which are still to complete - and said its deal pipeline remains as good as ever.

"We've continued - and will continue - to invest in acquisitions and the pipeline remains healthy as we move into 2019," Mr Scanlon said.

Mr Scanlon said the taste and nutrition division and the group's product and process technology capabilities continued to drive growth last year.

He said management was pleased with the 2018 performance, which "continues to highlight the uniqueness of Kerry's business model".

Davy said it is likely to "modestly" increase its earning forecasts for Kerry for this year, saying the group has entered 2019 with "positive momentum across its taste and nutrition platform, where sector fundamentals are favourable".