Another shakeup expected at Entain following Barclays downgrade

Lea Hogg 2 weeks ago
Another shakeup expected at Entain following Barclays downgrade

Gambling giant Entain, the owner of prominent brands such as Ladbrokes and Coral is facing another critical moment in its history following its downgrade by Barclays Bank. The corporate world and the gaming sector are watching closely, as Entain’s fate could have significant implications for the global gambling industry.

Interim CEO Stella David, a former non-executive director with experience in the drinks industry, is now at the helm. Will she be able to steer the company through the storm and restore investor confidence? Or will she succumb to the demands of the activist hedge funds, who are pushing for a sale or a divestment of assets, such as its lucrative stake in the US joint venture BetMGM?

The activists, led by Corvex and Eminence Capital, have also secured board representation, with Eminence founder Ricky Sandler joining as a non-executive director this month. As we await the market’s response to the downgrade by Barclays, their reaction to this development could significantly impact the company’s future direction and market perception.

Decisive role of activist hedge funds

Central to the analysis by Barclays Bank, there is now a lot of pressure on Entain. The call for Entain to up the game does not only address the online segment but the expectation is for the company to exceed its previous market expansion rate and significantly deliver better results.

However the Barclays analysis also recognizes the uncertainties that may hinder the realization of these tough targets.

Further complicating the situation is Entain’s limited financial flexibility. With reduced free cash flow and significant restricted leverage, the company’s ability to engage in mergers and acquisitions will be, without doubt, somewhat difficult.

After the unexpected departure of its CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen last month, the company has been under pressure and facing much scrutiny from these activist hedge funds as well as from the industry and other shareholders, who are demanding a radical overhaul of the company’s strategy and governance. Now that the company has received yet another blow with the rating from Barclays which has been downgraded from “overweight” to “equalweight”, Entain’s price target has also been slashed from 1,120p to 1,070p, citing the challenges of recovery from its recent underperformance.

The activist hedge funds have also been advocating for austerity measures. These measures include further cost-cutting initiatives and streamlining of human resources, which they believe are necessary steps to improve the company’s financial health and operational efficiency. Previously their criticism of Nygaard-Andersen’s use of private jets reflected their principles of cost-efficiency. The push for further austerity will add another layer of complexity to the unfolding corporate drama yet it may temporarily placate the activist hedge funds.

Will the company become the target of another takeover attempt, or a break-up by the activists? The stakes are high, and the outcome could have far-reaching implications for the global gambling industry.

Challenges and M&A opportunities ahead

Despite facing challenging hurdles, the company remains a highly appealing prospect for acquisition. It has a presence in dozens of regulated markets and a portfolio of online and retail brands. It also possesses valuable sportsbook licences and technology that could attract potential suitors.

Demands by Corvex and Eminence Capital may appear unachieveable; they are not only pushing for the divestment of assets but have also secured strong board representation, with Ricky Sandler, the founder of Eminence, joining the Board earlier this month.

Potential suitors could include MGM Resorts, which made an unsuccessful £8.1billion bid for Entain last year, and DraftKings, which recently abandoned a $22.4 billion bid for the company. The question remains: Will Entain be able to solve its current woes and emerge stronger from the crisis? Or will it become the target of another takeover attempt, or a break-up by the activists? The stakes are high.

Proposal of new CEO

Overall, Barclays’ analysis presents a picture of a company at a crossroads, with its online operations under particular scrutiny. The trajectory of Entain’s online performance, coupled with the dynamics of its U.S. market share, will likely play a pivotal role in determining the company’s future valuation and strategic direction. While there may be avenues for improvement, such as potential changes in leadership, the prevailing financial constraints and the inherent uncertainties of the market contribute to a focussed outlook characterized by both opportunities and risks.

Barclays proposes that appointing a new CEO capable of navigating Entain’s complex balance sheet could potentially address these financial challenges. Despite this, Barclays observes that Entain’s shares currently trade at a discount, suggesting a market perception of undervaluation. This apparent opportunity, however, is balanced by a careful assessment of risks and rewards.

In light of this reassessment, Barclays has set a price target of £10.70 for Entain shares, reflecting a recalibration of expectations in line with the company’s present circumstances.

Entain finds itself in a position where proactive measures are required to address its challenges and capitalize on its strengths. The journey ahead entails navigating a complex strategy where the balance between risk and reward will shape the company’s trajectory in the eyes of investors and analysts alike.

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