Can the Mothercare share price make a successful comeback?

Roland Head examines the latest update from Mothercare plc (LON:MTC) and asks if the shares could be a recovery play.

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When I last wrote about troubled retailer Mothercare (LSE: MTC) in December, I suggested that things might be about to get much worse. Unfortunately they have.

The group’s shares have fallen by nearly 75% since my last article, as further updates have revealed continued poor trading.

During the 12 weeks to 30 December, UK like-for-like sales fell by 7.2%, while UK online sales fell 6.9%. International sales were 3% lower during the period, excluding currency effects.

The good news is that the firm’s sales performance did improve slightly during the final quarter of the firm’s financial year, which runs to late March. UK like-for-like sales only fell by 2.8% during this period, while UK online sales returned to growth, rising by 2.1%.

However, international sales continued to worsen, falling by 3.7% during the final quarter. Full-year sales for the whole group are expected to be 1.9% lower than last year.

More shareholder cash required?

Despite raising £100m from shareholders in 2014, Mothercare’s net debt was expected to be about £50m at the end of March. As of 12 April, the company remained in discussion with lenders about refinancing.

One reason for this delay may be that lenders are waiting for the firm’s new chief executive, David Wood, to produce a fresh turnaround plan. Recent press reports suggest that this might include a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to allow the firm to close about 47 of its 143 stores.

If this happens, I’d also expect the lenders to require an equity fundraising to improve the group’s cash position. Mr Wood may have been referring to this in comments on 12 April, when he said that Mothercare was continuing “to explore additional sources of funding”.

A glimmer of hope?

Looking ahead, broker forecasts suggest that adjusted earnings could recover to 2.4p per share in 2018/19. This gives the stock a 2018/19 forecast P/E of about 7.5.

This might seem cheap, but if new shares are issued as part of a restructuring, existing shareholders could face significant dilution. I think it makes sense to wait until the company has completed any refinancing before considering whether to invest.

This is how it could work

Mothercare isn’t the only well-known retailer with financial problems. Flooring specialist Carpetright (LSE: CPR) has seen its share price fall by more than 70% since it reported a “sharp deterioration in UK trade” with a “significant impact on profitability” in January.

However, Carpetright appears to be several steps closer to a solution than Mothercare. On Thursday, the company announced details of a CVA proposal that would allow it to close 92 sites, and agree a rent reduction on a further 113 sites.

If the firm’s landlords approve this plan, then management also plans to raise £60m through an equity placing and open offer. This cash will be used to help reduce debt and fund the group’s turnaround plans.

I’m not rushing in

Without its lossmaking stores, Carpetright’s profitability could improve significantly. This could become an attractive recovery play.

The problem for small investors like us is that if the plan is approved, most of the new shares will be issued to institutional buyers. They may well be sold at a big discount to the current share price. If this happens, the existing shares could fall sharply.

On balance I think it’s probably still too soon to buy, but I’ll be watching this situation with interest.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be considered so you should consider taking independent financial advice.

Roland Head has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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