The last time I covered the Saga (LSE: SAGA) share price, I concluded it might be best to give the firm a wide berth for the next two years. That would give us time to see if management’s turnaround plan yielded results.
Since my last article on 6th April, shares in the business have fallen a further 44%, excluding dividends. So it looks as if this was the right advice.
However, today’s trading update seems to suggest Saga is making headway in dealing with the primary issues affecting the business. I think there’s a good chance this could mark the start of the firm’s turnaround.
Ahead of its annual general meeting, Saga’s trading update for the period from 1 February to 18 June, claims the group is “making progress in the implementation of the strategy announced in April.” And despite challenging conditions, “trading for the period is broadly in line with expectations.”
Most importantly, Saga’s insurance business, which has been the group’s problem child for the past two years, seems to have stabilised. The volume of direct home and motor policies the company sold during the first few months of 2019 “are running well above the run rate level in the second half of the 2018/19 financial year,” the statement notes.
Also, an improvement in retentions means the number of core Saga-branded home and motor policies in force at the end of May “were flat at 564k.” This is hardly a transformative turnaround, but at least the business has stopped shrinking, and that’s something.
Unfortunately, Saga’s travel business is still shrinking. According to the update, booked revenues were down 4% for the full year as of 15 June compared to the same period last year.
That said, the firm’s new cruise business is proving to be “more resilient” with bookings “in line” with management forecasts for the year. During the second half of 2019, management is planning a “significant step up in marketing activities” for this business to “coincide with the launch of the Spirit of Discovery,” its new cruise vessel.
Summing up today’s update, outgoing CEO Lance Batchelor said: “Against challenging headwinds in both travel and insurance, we see early signs of progress in stabilising our retail broking business and forward bookings for the cruise business have been resilient.“
Overall, I think today’s update from Saga is broadly positive. While the company is still fighting fires across the business, it’s encouraging that things haven’t gotten any worse since April. That’s not to say that the group is entirely out of the woods just yet.
City analysts believe the firm’s profits will decline by around 37% this year (compared to fiscal 2018), and I don’t see this outlook changing following today’s update.
Nevertheless, I’m cautiously optimistic Saga has turned the corner, and its new business plan is starting to yield results. If the company can keep this up for the rest of the year, it might be worth considering the stock for your portfolio.
Based on current City projections, the stock is trading at a bargain valuation of just 4.5 times forward earnings compared to the market average of 12.7. That implies if growth returns, the Saga share price could double from current levels.
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Rupert Hargreaves owns no share 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.