Flutter-Stars Group merger is a go, cash dividend not so much


flutter-entertainment-stars-group-merger-coronavirusUK-listed gambling giant Flutter Entertainment says its merger with online rival The Stars Group (TSG) won’t be stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic but the same can’t be said for its cash dividend to investors.

On Friday, Flutter issued an update on its plans to absorb TSG’s operations, which Flutter CEO Peter Jackson said would proceed despite the “challenging times” brought on by the coronavirus. Jackson said he was “more convinced than ever of the strategic fit of these two complementary businesses.”

That said, the COVID-19 hit that Flutter’s bottom line has taken over the past month or so means that the company is proposing to issue the planned 2019 final dividend of 133p per Flutter share in more Flutter shares rather than cash. Flutter also decided not to propose a pro-rated dividend immediately prior to completion of the merger, and to suspend dividends for the current financial year.

Flutter also announced that it had rejigged its debt arrangements earlier this month through a term loan and revolving credit facility totaling £1.3b to provide “ongoing financial flexibility.” The enlarged company’s debt was supposed to be around 3.5x earnings, but Flutter now says this figure is “likely to be above 3.5x (excluding synergies).”

Investors reacted negatively, pushing Flutter’s share price down 11.6% by the close of Friday’s trading, although that’s still well above where the shares stood when the London Stock Exchange opened last Monday.

Flutter also revealed that TSG CEO Rafi Ashkenazi is no longer slated to become the enlarged group’s chief operating officer. Instead, Ashkenazi will join Flutter’s board as a non-executive director and will also serve as a consultant to assist the integration of TSG’s operations into the Flutter fold. TSG issued its own release on Friday announcing a special meeting of its shareholders in Toronto on April 24.