Saga shares rally as over-50s look forward to Covid-19 freedom

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Saga PLC (LON:SAGA) said bookings for its cruises are running higher than this time last year, illustrating demand is as strong as ever.

The over-50s specialist has seen its cruise business effectively shut down since the start of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the group posted a loss of £61.2mln (2020: Loss £301mln) in the year to end January 2021.

Saga was helped by a good contribution from its insurance business, where lockdown meant fewer accidents, which helped the underwriting performance.

Cash burn for the second half will be at the lower end of £6-8m per month guidance, said the statement.

The group recently renewed its debt facilities but had cash of £75mln and a credit facility of £100mln at the end of January.

That restructuring gives it headroom until well into the second half of the year, it said, when Saga should be running cruises in some form again.

Total cruise bookings are £154mln for 2021/22 and 2022/23 combined, it said today, in comparison to £128mln at the same point last year, representing a 20% improvement.

Euan Sutherland, chief executive, added:  “The progress we have made is clear in the resilient performance delivered by our Insurance business and in Cruise where our high levels of customer retention show clear loyalty to our differentiated boutique offering.

“It is clear that there is significant pent-up demand among our customer base, the vast majority of whom have now been vaccinated and are ready to enjoy post-lockdown freedom. “

Peel Hunt added that the headline pre-tax loss of £61m included a goodwill write-down and £30mln of restructuring costs.

The insurance business reported a better-than-expected £135mln profit with a £76mln profit in the broker and £59mln within the underwriting business, helping offset the losses in the travel business.

The debt restructuring includes a backstop from the chairman should cruises not restart until 1 March 2022 in a worst-case scenario though the base case is a restart in June/July 2021.

Shares shot up 11% to 385.6p.

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