BT shares plunge after warning of £530m hit from “inappropriate behaviour” within its Italian business

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT.
Photo: BT

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT. Photo: BT - Credit: Archant

Telecoms giant BT today issued a profits warning as it revealed that it now expects to take a £530m hit from accounting irregularities at its Italian division – far higher than the £145m previously estimated.

Shares in BT plunged by 16% in early trading after it said an independent review by KPMG had shown that the “extent and complexity of inappropriate behaviour in the Italian business were far greater than previously identified”.

An investigation had revealed improper accounting practices and a “complex set of improper sales, purchase, factoring and leasing transactions”, which had together resulted in the earnings of group’s Italian business being overstated over a number of years, it added.

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson said: “We are deeply disappointed with the improper practices which we have found in our Italian business.

“We have undertaken extensive investigations into that business and are committed to ensuring the highest standards across the whole of BT for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, employees and all other stakeholders.”

The group first revealed the accounting errors in October last year and said today that the investigation is now “substantially complete”, adding that it is attempting to establish how the £530m hit should be reflected in its financial statements for current and previous periods.

However, the firm said it expects the issue to result in a reduction in its third quarter adjusted revenue and adjusted earnings of around £120m.

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For the financial year as a whole, BT expects adjusted revenue to decrease by around £200m and adjusted earnings by £175m. It expects to take a similar hit next year.

BT added that the outlook for UK public sector and international corporate markets has “deteriorated”. For business and public sector, it is pencilling in a double-digit year-on-year percentage decline in fourth quarter underlying earnings.

The group said in a statement: “The improper behaviour in our Italian business is an extremely serious matter, and we have taken immediate steps to strengthen the financial processes and controls in that business.

“We suspended a number of BT Italy’s senior management team who have now left the business. We have also appointed a new chief executive of BT Italy who will take charge on February 1, 2017.

“He will review the Italian management team and will work with BT Group Ethics and Compliance to improve the governance, compliance and financial safeguards in our Italian business.”

The Italian business accounts for around 1% of BT’s total earnings.

BT is also conducting a broader review of financial processes, systems and controls across the group and its remuneration committee will “consider the wider implications” of the BT Italy investigation.

The company will issue a third quarter trading update on Friday.