Co-operative Group back in the black - but no dividend until 2018

Co-operative Group chief executive Richard Pennycook (left) and independent non-executive chairman A

Co-operative Group chief executive Richard Pennycook (left) and independent non-executive chairman Allan Leighton. - Credit: PA

The Co-operative Group today posted a return to profit but warned that its members will have to wait until 2018 for a resumption in dividend payments.

The troubled mutual, which last year reported a loss of £2.3billion following the near collapse of its banking arm, benefited from the sale of its farms and pharmacy operations as it posted a net profit of £216million for 2014.

Without the disposals, however, the Co-op would, at best, have broken even, chief executive Richard Pennycook said.

He added that the Co-op had completed the rescue phase of its turnaround but said that a resumption of dividend payments was unlikely until after the rebuilding phase completes at the end of 2017.

Mr Pennycook said: “The hard work of rebuilding the Co-operative Group for the next generation, and restoring it to its rightful place at the heart of communities up and down the UK, is now under way.”

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The Co-op is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned by more than eight million members. It is the UK’s fifth largest food retailer with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.

Its debt was reduced to £808m from £1.4bn a year earlier, despite the cost of boosting the capital strength of its former banking arm, which is now just 20% owned by the mutual following a rescue by bondholders.

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Former Asda boss Allan Leighton, whose father ran a Co-op store, was recently announced as the society’s first independent non-executive chairman under its reformed governance structure.

Mr Leighton is currently working on the establishment of a new board, composed of a majority of independent directors.

Their appointment is expected ahead of the group’s AGM in May, with further elected directors set to join the board following the meeting. About 2.9m of its eight million members are eligible to vote at the AGM having met the minimum level of qualifying purchases.

The Co-op said its food business delivered a robust performance last year, with like-for-like sales up 0.4% overall as underlying profits increased 1.5% to £251m.

The group acquired 82 new convenience stores and refurbished more than 700 stores during the period. It aims to add another 100 in the current year.

: : The East of England Co-operative Society, which operates across Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex, is a separate organisation and not part of the Co-operative Group.

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