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Edited Transcript of TPK.L earnings conference call or presentation 3-Mar-20 8:30am GMT

Full Year 2019 Travis Perkins PLC Earnings Call

London Mar 28, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Travis Perkins PLC earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at 8:30:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Alan R. Williams

Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director

* Nicholas John Roberts

Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director

* Stuart John Chambers

Travis Perkins plc - Independent Non-Executive Chairman

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Conference Call Participants

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* Ami Galla

Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Senior Associate

* Aynsley Lammin

Canaccord Genuity Corp., Research Division - Analyst

* Charlie Campbell

Liberum Capital Limited, Research Division - Housebuilding Analyst

* Christen David Hjorth

Numis Securities Limited, Research Division - Analyst

* Gregor Kuglitsch

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director, Head of European Building & Construction Research and Equity Research Analyst

* Howard David Seymour

Numis Securities Limited, Research Division - Director of Equity Analysis

* John Messenger

Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research

* Robert Eason

Goodbody Stockbrokers, Research Division - Head of Research

* William Jones

Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to this morning's Travis Perkins' 2019 Final Results.

(Operator Instructions)

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Stuart John Chambers, Travis Perkins plc - Independent Non-Executive Chairman [2]

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Great. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, as Chairman of Travis Perkins, it's my pleasure to welcome you here to our 2019 full year results presentation, which Nick and Alan will take you through very shortly.

I just want to cover 2 topics first before I hand over to Nick. Firstly, I just want to touch on safety performance within the whole area of HSE. And Nick will talk a little bit more in detail about the underlying. But I'm absolutely delighted, as is the Board, that our underlying KPIs on safety performance are heading materially in the right direction as in 2019 versus a year before.

I think if you look at the industry statistics and the way these are compiled, it does show that Travis Perkins is the leader in the field -- in this particular field in our sector. But what's really, really pleasing is when you go around the patch, you don't pick up one ounce of complacency in this area. And that's really, really key because we have a goal, which I hope you're all familiar with, but if not, you should know, which is 0 harm. And we need, and we require to be in a position where all of our employees, our contractors, our customers who work at or visit our operations or our offices day in, day out, go home to their families safe and unharmed. We're not there yet. There's an awful lot to do to get to that point, but we're on the right path, and we're certainly committed to it.

And the second thing I wanted to touch on was Board changes, which I usually do at the opening of these presentations. I last spoke to you in July. For those of you who were here at that time, Nick Roberts was -- had joined the Board, but had not taken over from John Carter, who presented the results at the half year last year. So that's the first change.

And we also have 2 imminent departures in our nonexecutive ranks, which I'll come to in a minute. And to fill that gap in advance, we brought on 2 new nonexecutive directors at the end of last year in the shape of Blair Illingworth and Marianne Culver, both bringing complementary skills and experience to our Board to get the right composition for us.

The departures, which they're there for to fill in are Ruth Anderson. Ruth is in her 9th year and has been a really good nonexecutive director and particularly, has chaired our Audit Committee so well for us over more than 6 years, I think it is 7 years or so. And hence, the timing, it's her last day today, so we wish Ruth very -- all the very best. And that's because she wanted quite rightly as we do for her to finish off the full year results and to see them audited and presented today. Therefore, she leaves today.

And secondly, we've got Chris Rogers, who is our Senior Independent Director, and he actually doesn't go for reelection at the AGM. So he steps down at the Travis Perkins plc AGM in order to then assuming the Wickes demerger continues to plan as it's currently doing, then he will take over as the new Chairman of the demerged Wickes plc at that time. So, so much for Board changes, and I think that's enough for me.

Let me hand over to Nick Roberts, our Chief Executive, to kick us off.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [3]

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Super. Thank you, Stuart, and a very warm welcome and good morning to you all. I'm delighted to be presenting my first full year set of results, just 8 months into my time with the group. And I want to begin our session today by setting a context before Alan presents the financial results because 2019 was a significant year of progress for the group. What we're reporting today represents progress against the 2018 Capital Markets Day plan to simplify and focus our business. And with the plan, as Stuart mentioned, to demerge Wickes well advanced, and obviously, the sale of the Plumbing & Heating wholesale business in January, totally aligned with that plan, we're making good progress. The journey, as you've seen this morning, is underpinned by a positive trading performance as well with 3.2% growth in revenue, that's 3.8% like-for-like growth, shade under GBP 7 billion of revenue. With our merchant businesses outperforming, the growth in Toolstation marches on and as we've said, we've got an improvement in performance in Wickes and our P&H business, I think that shows the real resilience and quality of this business and of our people.

And I'll return to those themes after Alan has presented the results. So over to you, Alan.

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [4]

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Thank you, Nick, and good morning, everyone.

So before I take you through the results, I thought it was worth reminding you with the market backdrop during 2019. While the long-term fundamentals of our markets remained sound, 2019 saw market conditions become increasingly difficult, principally due to ongoing political uncertainty.

As you can see on the graph, this had a negative impact on our 2 lead indicators, the secondary housing market transactions and consumer confidence and that throughout the course of the year. While the outcome of the election in December provides more certainty, it's likely to take a while for this to feed through to RMI spending.

Given the continuing challenging market backdrop, it's therefore imperative that we focus on executing our strategy to position our businesses to outperform regardless of the market conditions.

Before I get into the numbers, I also wanted to remind you of the changes to how we're presenting our results in 2019.

So firstly, as we set out with our full year 2018 results, we have redefined our reporting segments. Secondly, we acquired a further 50% of Toolstation Europe in September 2019. This took our holding to 97%, and so the business is now fully consolidated for Q4, having previously accounted for the business as an associate.

We've also applied IFRS 16 leases for the first time in 2019. And while we've not fully restated 2018 results on an IFRS 16 basis due to the complexity of that exercise, we have provided illustrative comparatives as if IFRS 16 had applied throughout 2018.

And finally, we've redefined how we measure free cash flow, so as to better reflect the operating cash generation of the business. So as a reminder, we've, therefore, included all base capital expenditure, both maintenance and investment and have excluded freehold transactions as we view these as financing decisions and recycling of capital over time.

So as Nick mentioned from -- in his introductory comments, the group traded well in 2019 with our businesses outperforming their peers. Revenue growth was good at 3.8% on a like-for-like basis, with total revenue of almost GBP 7 billion, up 3.2% overall. Adjusted operating profit was GBP 442 million, up by GBP 32 million or 7.8% versus the 2018 comparative.

Excluding property profits, the adjusted operating profit was up 7.1%. At an adjusted earnings per share level, 112.7% (sic) [112.7p] is 6.3% higher with a higher financing charge due to marking-to-market outstanding forward FX contracts at the year-end.

The improved profitability of the group drove an improvement in return on capital employed of 50 basis points to 10.1%. And given the cash generative nature of the business and our confidence in the long-term prospects for the group, the Board is recommending an increase in the dividend of 1.5p to 48.5p per share, a distribution in total of approximately GBP 120 million for the year.

Like-for-like sales growth in the year was volume-led with 2.3% volume growth and a pricing contribution of around 1.5%, as our merchanting businesses acted to recover input cost inflation.

Sales growth was stronger in the first half at 5.3% against a weak H1 '18 comparator. And revenue growth progressively weakened through the second half of the year as a result of the heightened macro uncertainty and also the stronger comparator from 2018. You can see this clearly reflected in the 2-year like-for-like at the bottom of the table.

On Slide 11, I've set out the drivers of our EBITDA performance. Gross profit increased by a pleasing GBP 107 million, driven principally by the strong growth in Toolstation and Wickes. Cost inflation on our GBP 1.6 billion cost base was GBP 57 million, driven mainly by increases in staff costs as well as inflation pressure on rent and rates. These inflation pressures were partly mitigated by GBP 34 million of cost reduction initiatives realized in year.

We continue to invest in growth across the group with GBP 56 million of investment in 2019, principally in the expansion of Toolstation U.K. and Europe as well as investments in customer-facing colleagues in the general merchant and also growth initiatives in Wickes.

Let me give you a bit more detail on the cost initiatives delivered in 2019. At the Capital Markets update in December 2018, we set out a GBP 20 million to GBP 30 million of cost savings target by mid-2020. The initiatives totaling over GBP 30 million have now been put in train with approximately 2/3 of the savings reflected in the 2019 results. As well as removing the divisional structure, these savings include operational cost savings from the closure of the heavyside range center network and the restructuring and streamlining of support functions.

Inflationary pressures remain with a tight labor market, increases for the national living wage and also to auto enrollment pensions. We also anticipate that the demerger of Wickes and the creation of stand-alone functions in Plumbing & Heating ahead of a future divestment will lead to around GBP 15 million of dissynergy and overheads, which the group will be taking actions to mitigate over the course of the next 2 years.

It, therefore, remains a priority to focus on the simplification of processes and to control costs tightly.

So I'll now take a look at the business units. And turning first to the merchanting segment, where like-for-like growth was 3.3%, outperforming our markets. As Nick will cover later, this was very much driven by actions to give greater decision-making authority to our branch managers and to increase the focus on excellence in customer service.

Operating profit increased by GBP 5 million to GBP 284 million, with a good contribution from the cost savings I described on the previous chart, helping to mitigate inflation and investment in service.

Operating margin was stable at 7.7%, despite the stronger volume-led growth in larger customers and an increase in the proportion of direct-to-site deliveries.

Our performance in Toolstation U.K. was again quite simply excellent in 2019. Like-for-like growth was 16.3% with revenue having more than doubled since 2014. The rate of branch openings in the U.K. accelerated with a net addition of 65 branches to reach 400 overall.

Despite the increase in the mature space, U.K. operating profit grew by over 20%. The segment's operating profit was held back by the consolidation of Toolstation Europe losses in Q4 following the acquisition of a further 50% of the business.

We're very encouraged by the prospects of Toolstation Europe, which is following a similar path to the U.K. businesses early development and we will be looking to accelerate the expansion of the business in 2020 and beyond.

And therefore, given the startup losses, I'm guiding to around GBP 20 million of loss for 2020. The Plumbing & Heating segment performed well despite the distraction of the disposal process. While overall revenue was down year-on-year, the like-for-like performance in the branch-based business was good, with 3.3% growth. The transformation program, which was put in train in 2017 continues to bear fruit, and operating profit increased by 9% to GBP 48 million. While the overall disposal process has been paused, we completed the disposal of the wholesale PF&P business in January 2020 at an attractive price.

The retail segment overall delivered strong like-for-like revenue growth of 8.6%. Clearly, this was driven by the strong recovery in Wickes in 2019, where like-for-like revenue grew by 8.7%. This improvement came from both the core business and the Kitchen & Bathroom showroom, Do It For Me business.

Core categories benefited from a stronger trading plan, while we continue to increase the proportion of showroom orders that we sold with installation services up to 56% in 2019 and with a strong uptake on the new tiling proposition, which was added late in the year.

EBITDA in the retail segment increased by GBP 20 million to GBP 97 million, with margin benefiting from a more stable competitive pricing environment and good operating leverage.

The strong recovery in performance has enabled us to progress the demerger of Wickes, to which I'll return later.

Free cash flow performance for the year was good, largely driven by higher operating profit and lower capital expenditure. Cash conversion increased to 54% despite the significant GBP 60 million increase in inventory as a hedge against a no-deal Brexit.

We expect to see some unwind of the stock holding position during 2020, albeit you will all recognize that uncertainty remains. So looking at capital expenditure in more detail on Slide 18, base CapEx was GBP 22 million lower than in 2018 at GBP 121 million.

For perspective, this is a reduction of almost GBP 50 million compared to 2017. While IT CapEx reduced, primarily due to the halting of the Merchant ERP program, growth CapEx increased by GBP 9 million with the acceleration of branch openings in Toolstation U.K., the consolidation of CapEx investments made in Toolstation Europe and investments in the general merchant.

Freehold activity overall was more muted with both lower purchases and lower disposal proceeds. Excluding Wickes, we would expect base CapEx in 2020 to be in the range of GBP 100 million to GBP 120 million.

Covenant net debt increased modestly to GBP 344 million from GBP 300 million at 31st of December '18. The cash cost of adjusting items in the year was GBP 90 million, this was driven by the Plumbing & Heating transformation and the separation program, and also costs relating to the separation of Wickes.

M&A expenditure increased to GBP 64 million, with the acquisition of Toolstation Europe and further payments on both the Underfloor Heating Store and National Shower Spares acquisitions.

Taking an underlying view, that's if we were to exclude the higher stock investment and higher M&A costs year-on-year, we would have seen a reduction in covenant net debt of around GBP 45 million.

So returning to the Wickes demerger, the process remains on track, and we are targeting the issuance of the prospectus and shareholder circular later this month with a general meeting to approve the transaction by the end of April. Given the lease commitments in the Wickes balance sheet, the group will place approximately GBP 130 million in cash in the stand-alone business to ensure Wickes has an appropriate capital structure and leverage position, in line with its retail peers over time.

On the left-hand side of the chart, you can see the impact on the remaining group's balance sheet, that if the demerger had taken place at the end of 2019. As you can see, it leaves the remaining group with a strong balance sheet, which is key to underpinning the group's strategy.

So finally, Nick will make some comments later on the broader outlook for the group. And so I thought I'd end with some more technical comments for 2020 as there are quite a few moving parts. The group is going through a significant portfolio change with the demerger of Wickes, which will be shown as a discontinued operation in 2020.

With the disposal of PF&P, which will be excluded from the 2020 results, and the consolidation of Toolstation Europe's losses of around GBP 20 million, I've laid out in the appendix the detail of these changes as if they had applied in 2019. The group remains well positioned, is becoming more focused through portfolio change, and we are optimistic that we can build further on a good 2019 performance in the years to come.

And with that, I'd now like to hand over to Nick to provide the operational review and strategic update.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [5]

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Fabulous. Thanks, Alan. As I said at the beginning, it's been a -- it is a great pleasure to be presenting these results to you after 8 months with the group. And coming from another part of the construction industry it's been such a positive experience for me to immerse myself in the business and experience the real pride that this business has in its identity, in its culture, in its brand, in its heritage and in its purpose and in its values.

And for me, they really shine through as I've got under the skin of the business. I continue to be struck by the quality and commitment of the people within this business and the relationships with customers and suppliers that are the very bedrock of this merchant- and trade-focused business across all our branches, our shops, our DCs, our offices, both in the U.K. and overseas. It's clearly a foundation of our success. And I have to say, I'm extremely proud to be part of it.

As many of you know, because we've discussed it offline, I spent many weeks, as this slide shows, last year in 2019 in all parts of the business, on our road with our drivers, with our customers, with our suppliers and with our shareholders, too, and I found a company that despite the distractions that are much documented of the breadth of our portfolio, who had never lost sight of who it was and what it stood for in the industry. And I saw colleagues where, as Stuart said, the culture and values around safety shone through. But actually, they discharged their duties with well-being and the TP touch to the fore, and that really resonates with our customers and our people.

And just to reinforce Stuart's comments, without going into safety statistics in detail, this is a particularly important issue for me coming from the construction end and professional services end of the construction industry, and I see here a business that has reduced its lost time instant frequency rate by 25% and its severity rate by 27% in the year.

And I have to say that is outstanding performance in our industry, and we should be proud of it, and we are. I found a business in really good heart and spirit, going above and beyond for customers and its suppliers, proud to be TP, but proud to be taking on the challenges that we were setting it last year, and indeed, that were revealed by the CMD at the back end of 2018. But there's no doubt that their confidence had been dented. There was a sense that we were missing out to competitors in certain parts of our customer segments, complexity have been put in the way of getting things done for customers. And there was a sense we were losing, and our people were frustrated. But they were energized, really energized by the sense that the business was now listening to their voice again and really wanted to address their concerns, and so enable them to go and serve customers the way that we do here at TP, once again.

Let's just remind ourselves of the key messages from the CMD back in December 2018, it seems a long time ago now, but it forms the basis of the current plan. The complexity of the group needs to be addressed, of that, there's no doubt. Complexity, as we know, brings higher costs, reduces flexibility. It's harder to achieve our goals at pace and in the challenging environment that we are in, we need to be a lean and empowered business. And were it to -- in order to -- in order that we can adapt and grow in the future.

As Alan said, while the long-term fundamentals of our end markets remained positive, significant near-term uncertainty endures, and so it's too early to talk about, let alone start to think about relying on a market bounce just yet.

Good progress has been made on the core tenets, the 2 core tenets of this plan: focus and simplicity. There's still much to do around this plan, which itself, in a sense, is a corporate development plan that actually gets the group in the right shape for the future. But I believe it's the right plan, and I remain committed to it.

We continue to focus on our core activities, prioritizing our development -- our deployment of capital and resources to execute change at pace. But in order to achieve this, I think our culture needs sharpening. We need to modernize our thinking, increase the pace of decision-making and execution and improve the agility of the organization. Whilst we've made some really excellent progress to this point, for example, empowering our regional and branch leadership teams to really trade with our customers, at a local level, much heavy lifting remains to do to achieve consistent sustainable outperformance in the market.

My team is adopting an approach around transparency and accountability for the execution of our plans with clear and regular allocation of both human and financial capital against the group's key priorities. We're gaining the hard yards against all those priorities and it's showing up in operational performance. There's much more to do, but we've made a good start.

One of the first things for me to do was to set clear current priorities for the group, and they're on this slide. Firstly, the successful demerger of Wickes. Secondly, regenerating our Travis Perkins general merchant, accelerating the growth of Toolstation. The fourth priority that you see here is to build the foundation for future success of the group. What do I mean by this? Essentially, it's about thinking carefully about how we configure the resources and capabilities we have to support our customer-facing teams to win. And this is going to require focus on our people, their capability, the resources they have, the underpinning technology, the organization with which we apply, and this is a critical focus of my team and something I'll come back to shortly.

Regenerating our largest business, the TP general merchant, it's at the heart of the group, and it's critical to our success in both delighting our existing customers and attracting new customers in the future. I use this word regenerating absolutely deliberately. I did not show up last year and find a business that needed reenergizing or reinvigorating. The passion and commitment was always there in this business. What we needed to do was really focus on the core value drivers and the growth levers to restore this business and drive them at pace. Early positive progress has been made. And I absolutely commend Frank Elkins, who is with us today and Kieran Griffin and the rest of the TP general merchant team for the progress and diligence and focus that they've applied over the last 12 months.

Decision making on ranging, on pricing, on customer service in our branches has been empowered locally. This is about really supporting branch managers in what they do best. And supporting them with capital allocation and the right network to affect customer change.

As a result, we're making progress in the market, 10 consecutive months of outperformance against our peers. We've been really clear and really targeted about becoming a destination again for our heavyside products, bricks and timber, those categories that we were famous for in the market, really focused on getting back to those basics, and have incredible depth of ranges in our branches, such that it inspires confidence, both in our people, but actually in our customers that we really are back on our game. And to put some context around that data, GfK tells us that we had 29 months from mid-2016 of performing in line or behind our peer set. And from the changes that we've begun early in 2019 with Kieran and Frank at the team, we've reversed that trend markedly.

And now we've had 10 consecutive months of share gains and outperformance for the general merchant. That's just the start for us. Our focus is going to be on continuing that to give us sustained, consistent performance. I think the first point I'd make on this slide is that the first 3 columns left to right, really are a continuation of actions I've just mentioned, actually in 2019, work on these is far from complete. We remain absolutely diligent to really executing the basics. And we need to make sure that we're excelling at these. In delivering these basics repeatedly will delight our customers and win more share of their wallet.

Let me just draw attention to the final column. We've been focusing over the years in investing in our business, but not actually in the core general merchant branch network, and that's the focus of our estate activity now, improving the estate is part of what I talk about in terms of regenerating the Travis Perkins general merchant. We're focused on the network of the future, we've been under-indexed in too many areas. We've had too many small sites that perhaps have been suboptimally located, and we're starting to address that. If I take a big market like Birmingham, for example, we -- our sites there, our branches are too small and are not necessarily in the right locations for us now, and we underindex in that city.

With new investments in train, we aim to have the right presence, the right capacity, the right location to be able to address that in the near future and win business again. It's a work in progress. There's much to do, and we're focusing capital in that area very deliberately.

Our specialist merchants, I've been deeply impressed by the focus and the clarity of the customer proposition represented by our specialist merchants. And again, I commend Frank and Kieran and Angela and Paul and Dean for really the foundations that they've laid, many of you will be aware of those, over the many years as a contract merchanting division that really has shown up where customer relationship has been absolutely paramount. And the teams really understand the kind of core dynamics of these businesses to reduce our cost to serve further. They made great progress in the face of a challenging market in the last year.

We continue to ensure that we've got the right configuration of our branch assets, these businesses can work closer together, and as a result, we think we can build capabilities and success that can be replicated across other parts of the group as well.

Alan's touched on this, but it's hugely exciting. And I'm very proud to be talking about the progress made by our Toolstation business. 23% sales growth, 16% like-for-like sales growth. James McKenzie and the Toolstation team have been doing a fabulous job. And as Alan mentioned, 65 branch openings in the year. That's 1 branch, every 6 days. To stand up the branch, to get the team operational and the branch operational every 6 days. This demonstrates real strength in our belief that this opportunity -- in this opportunity and James and the Toolstation team are continuing to drive hard. We've got another 60 branches in the pipeline for 2020. We've also been experimenting with different sizes and different formats for Toolstation in different catchments, so we can really understand how we can optimize the model.

So for example, last year, we opened a branch in Putney High Street, smaller branch, 2,200 square feet, right in the High Street without the normal parking that's afforded by the commercial unit kind of park that has traditionally been the Toolstation home. But with our web platform, with 5-minute Click & Collect on a main trade route, our customers have really benefited and really enjoy the use of that format. Where they don't necessarily need to park for long, it's a main trade route into town and that 5-minute Click & Collect has enabled us to give them the service proposition to our trade customers, but has enabled us to drive growth with that format. And we continue to look about how we optimize those different formats going forward.

We've really invested last year in broadening our range and expanding our categories in areas that are directly relevant to our trade customers with tremendous effect. Be under no mistake, under no doubt that this is a trade proposition. And we are really building the credibility with our customers in our categories and range that reinforces that. So we have a multi-channel offer from the branch, to the catalog, to web, to Click & Collect, and we continue to look at ways in which we optimize that.

And the continued expansion of Toolstation very clearly is one of the group's priorities. We're deploying capital to support James and the team, deploying resources to support him and the team, and really cementing our trade focus and credibility, branch, catalog online and furthering the proposition.

This is a really convenient platform for our trade customers. We've also made some great progress in Europe with Darren and Lucy. Lucy was one of the founders of Toolstation here in the U.K. She's now moved to France to help us grow our business there. And we are supporting them with replication of our model, close working with the team in the U.K., really supporting further growth, and we're excited about that in the years to come. Clearly, that business story is at a very different stage to our business in the U.K., but we remain very excited and very focused on it.

The Capital Markets Day in 2018 referred quite appropriately to the careful management of cost. And this, as I'm sure you'll agree, will always be a focus for a business like ours, as we address complexity and journey towards greater simplicity. But in my view, it is so much more than that. There is much to do to create a firm foundation for further growth by thinking carefully about optimizing our cost structures, our technology, our capability and our responsibility to society as leaders in this industry. We're carefully considering cost and investment to create that lean and empowered organization, but with having the right capability in the right place within the organization. We intend to build a modern agile business, underpinned by flexible technology to delight our customers to enable us to serve them quickly and conveniently and at the right cost, and the appropriate resources to support this and are making good progress in our future plans.

We're also committed to creating really exciting careers and opportunities and features for our people, and I'm ensuring that we are responsible stewards for our business and the communities we serve, the communities we're located in and that we actually think about using our industry leadership wisely. We are the market leader, and we're very thoughtful. I'm very thoughtful about our role that we play in driving a responsible agenda for the construction industry as a whole. We need to be in the discussion, a leading the discussion on skills, on diversity, on decarbonization, on generating value and greater inclusion in the communities that we serve and support. And I believe this platform will serve us really well in creating both the shareholder and the social value that we require in the future.

As Alan mentioned, 2 key planks of the 2018 portfolio plan were Wickes and P&H. And I'm really pleased with the progress that's been made on both fronts. Firstly, I commend David Woods and Julie Wirth, who are here with us on the progress that's been made in Wickes through 2019. The demerger remains on track, but it's really tremendous to see the positive recovery in performance that we've seen within that. And many of you will have seen, if you weren't at the CMD in January, and we'll have good insight to David and Julie's plans in that regard.

And P&H, Andrew Harrison and the team have made great progress with the improvement in performance within that business and enabled us to successfully divest the wholesale business at the end of January.

So as that last slide indicates, at a portfolio level, we've been able to demonstrate much positive progress in my view, and I think we've been able to evidence as progress kind of under the hood, if you like, in making gains in our markets and in our businesses. But we've got much more to do, but I think there's much more to go as well.

I've talked about the -- continuing the journey of focus and simplicity and delivering the plan.

I've talked about regenerating our core merchant and continuing to outperform the market. And I've talked about driving further growth in Toolstation. Actually, I've talked about establishing a firm foundation for future growth by delivering our cost structure and a mix of capability, of resources, of technology that will set us well for the future. And I've actually talked about a rigorous and focused and prioritized management team really focusing on the allocation of capital, both human and financial, speeding up decision making, executing at pace and delivering value for our shareholders, our people, the communities in which we're based, and the industry that we're proud to be a part of.

And with that, Alan and I are very happy to take your questions. Thank you.

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Questions and Answers

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [1]

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Aynsley?

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Aynsley Lammin, Canaccord Genuity Corp., Research Division - Analyst [2]

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Two questions, please. First of all, just on any kind of comments you're willing to give on trading, in January, February, and maybe how that compared to Q4, have you seen any kind of improvement there? And then second question, just on the merchanting side. Obviously, last year, you did a good job kind of taking market share gain, stable margins. Just interested to hear your thoughts about how you think about that balance between volume and margin in 2020? I assume you still want to take market share. Should we expect stable margins or could it even be better?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [3]

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Good. Thank you. Alan might -- maybe take the second one, and I'll pick up the first. I think it's very early to talk about the new year. But broadly, we are seeing a similar trend to what we saw in Q4. Whilst we see the sentiment that comes through in the market, obviously, post-election and post clarity of that, we don't yet see necessarily the -- that showing up in our business. But we know very well the lag that occurs between that sentiment playing through, and that's showing up within our branches.

But overall, we've had good momentum into the new year. But it doesn't look markedly dissimilar to Q4, which is why actually, we remain resolutely focused on actions and measures within our own business that ensure that we continue to outperform as we've demonstrated last year, and we remain confident with that. That's being masters of our own destiny, and ensuring that we continue to keep very focused on those measures whilst we watch the market very, very carefully.

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Operator [4]

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(Operator Instructions)

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [5]

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On an -- on the merchanting business, Aynsley, I think some of what we achieved in 2019 was despite pressure on gross margin from a customer mix element. So what I mean by that is we saw the larger customers growing more quickly during the year. And we also saw more of a trend towards direct-to-site deliveries, which don't transit through the yards. I'd expect to see some of that continue in the coming years. So point one is, there's a bit of downward pressure on gross margin percentage from that. And clearly, what helps us balance that overall with the -- there's 2 factors: one, growth in volume, and therefore, operating leverage within the business. And the second factor was the cost initiatives that we've put in place. So when you get down to an operating margin percentage point of view, that's how we're able to keep the operating margin percentage stable overall. Be very clear, I don't see an outlook where there will be significant margin expansion at an operating margin level, but nor do I see any reason why operating margins would go down significantly, materially in the coming years, despite that pressure, that I'll see -- that I see from the bigger customers continuing to grow a little more quickly than the local tradesmen.

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Gregor Kuglitsch, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Executive Director, Head of European Building & Construction Research and Equity Research Analyst [6]

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Gregor Kuglitsch from UBS. I guess I think you referred to the appendix slides sort of the pro formas. I have to confess I don't know the exact slide number, but I think the number is around GBP 420 million or so in terms of the starting point, if I'm not mistaken, including Wickes for trading profits. You did mention dissynergies, I think, kind of GBP 15 million, if I'm not mistaken. I guess, those would be incurred by the group, the RemainCo, I suppose, Travis. I guess the overall question is when we take all the considerations into account, trading, dissynergies, cost cutting, et cetera, or directionally, are you expecting to deliver profit growth against that, say, GBP 420 million? Secondly, last year, you had a nontrading cash out of GBP 90 million. Can you just give us a sense of how that's trending? Is that going towards kind of -- is that going to reduce materially? Or there's still going to be some material headwinds? And then on Toolstation Europe. Obviously, it's kind of a business for all of us to consider. I guess, you have the President of the U.K. But as the business plan stands today, at what stage do you think you can get that to breakeven or perhaps profit?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [7]

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Alan?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [8]

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All right. So on the nontrading cash, first, Greg, as for your second question, the GBP 90 million out, a lot of that was either prior year provisions transforming into cash or it was the cost of the -- on the Wickes demerger on the one hand, and secondly, the Plumbing & Heating separation and transformation. A lot of that work is done when you look at the detail of the balance sheet and where the provision sit, you'll see the provisions are for restructuring is significantly down year-on-year. And there will be some costs to complete the demerger, some of which arise in the remaining TP Group, some of which arise in Wickes. But if you're trying to stick the 2 together, I'd estimate GBP 10 million or so to complete that during 2020. So I think it will be materially lower year-on-year than the 2019 figure.

On Toolstation Europe and a breakeven point that we might see, it depends how many countries we open in. So if I take the example of the Netherlands, when you look at the contribution from the stores we've opened, like the U.K., they are contributions positive within 18 months of opening, with some variation between them, but it's following a similar path to what we saw in the U.K., probably with a higher online participation than we saw in the early years in the U.K., just reflecting, I think, how online trade overall is developed in the last 15 years. So we then have an element of central overhead for Toolstation Europe. And clearly, in France and Belgium, we're heavily loss-making because we're investing in getting the name out there and in terms of acquiring customers and getting them to understand the proposition and be repeat customers for us. So I'm afraid it's a bit of a fudge of an answer, but it will depend on how many markets we go in and how quickly we want to develop those markets. But we'll provide the detail as we go. And then in terms of the chart you referred to in the Appendix, is Appendix 2 on Slide 37. So that's the one where we try to lay out what are the moving parts. And if you talk 2019 actuals and then said, on an underlying basis for the remaining group, what are the numbers? So you're right, including Wickes, GBP 423 million. The remaining group, excluding Wickes, GBP 326 million of EBITA on an ongoing basis for 2019.

To be clear, on the GBP 15 million of dissynergy and what we mean there, first of all, those are costs which are incurred in centrally managed functions, not necessarily in the central cost segment that we report, but they are centrally managed services we've been providing to both Wickes and Plumbing & Heating over the years from the group, where each of those businesses has now invested to be a stand-alone business. So some of that cost will remain in the center. Some of it will be actually in the merchanting and Toolstation segments because if we were providing, say, an IT service, and we were allocating that out across the group based on the number of employees, number of users, the number of users shrinks by 1/3 without Wickes and without the Plumbing & Heating division. So it's a question of how you allocate out those costs. The costs don't go away immediately. You have to work your way through the contracts with the providers over some time, which is why we've given the time frame of over the next 24 months. But that's all been part of the plan that we have as we were planning the demerger and also the disposal program on Plumbing & Heating.

Directionally, for 2020, I think we've said we expect to make progress overall. I haven't put a time frame on that. I have to admit, I think it's rather challenging to predict at the moment. And let's see where trade agreement settle and what impact that has on consumer confidence, where the housing market and level of transactions go, but I'm not expecting anything to happen rapidly in terms of pickup within the market. Aynsley referred in the question to the trading performance in January, February compared to Q4. Without going into more detail, we've not seen any discernible Boris bounce or anything like that from housing transactions or sentiment picking up and nor would I expect to see that for a while yet.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [9]

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Thank you. Charlie?

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Charlie Campbell, Liberum Capital Limited, Research Division - Housebuilding Analyst [10]

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This is Charlie Campbell at Liberum. And I've got 2 questions, I think, they're probably related. So the first question is about kind of getting the market share gains you've seen in core Travis to be sustained. I'm just wondering whether you can do that without a kind of meaningful investments and step-up in IT spend particularly given kind of maybe average age of TP customers. And if you want to kind of lower that age, whether you'd need some more IT spending? Second question is on the balance sheet, and just thinking about kind of the deleveraging that comes not with -- just with Wickes, but also the Plumbing & Heating disposal. That would put you in quite a strong position, and therefore, sort of wondering why you're not using that strength to step up CapEx now to go after some of these opportunities that you've talked about in core Travis, IT as well as kind of physical estate.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [11]

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Good. Let me start, maybe you pick up the second one, Alan. Thank you, Charlie. We are -- we remain really focused on those measures that we are taking to improve the business within our branches and with our customers. And that, as you see and as we remain really clear, is having a great effect in retaining our customers, delighting them and making sure they come back and increasing our share of wallet with them, and indeed, attracting new. Our legacy IT systems, and it's been fascinating for me, as you'll appreciate, coming in last summer, when we announced what we announced to actually go and immerse myself in the business and see actually what state our IT systems were in and whether they actually constrained our business.

And what was interesting to me was that far from being a constraint to our business, they provide a sound basis upon which we can trade. They are operationally stable. We know exactly what to do with them. And indeed, across our peer groups, they're largely industry standard. What they don't enable us to do is serve customers in the future in the way that we would increasingly like, but it doesn't stop us making those improvements now. So we're really focused, actually, whilst we think very carefully about, as I said, what underpins our organization for the future? What technology, what capability does that create? We're well advanced with actually doing things that delight our customers now that actually ask how core systems don't constrain us for. So delivery management, increasingly web-enabled sales.

And I've mentioned that within Toolstation, which is actually a completely kind of integrated part of our customer offer for our trade customers. And so as we see the demographic change, which comes to the point of your question, Charlie. I think that we can continue to serve our kind of core progressively aging demographic extremely well by the measures we're taking, increasingly serve them online and with better propositions around delivery management. And we know we are able to do whatever it takes to appeal to a younger cohort coming through. And clearly, you will see that accelerate as we develop our IT spend. But I really want to stress that we are not constrained in what we do. But we know that the kind of underpinning has to be upgraded in due course. So we're being very thoughtful and very focused. It's been a huge amount of my time with my team over the last 6 months to look at how we do that, and we're well advanced with our plans in that regard. Do you want to pick up the balance sheet point?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [12]

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Yes. On the balance sheet, Charlie, I think if you look at Appendix 6 in the presentation, Slide 41, just to underline the point you're making, we've done a pretty good job of getting the leverage in the business under control. That creates more flexibility for the business to invest in terms of the shape of its balance sheet, I would expect to continue that deleveraging. I think you referenced Plumbing & Heating. I'm not going to worry about the Plumbing & Heating element now, if and when we dispose of the business, that will be the appropriate moment to talk about what we do with the proceeds. So if we put that to one side, I think the group has a really good cash generation profile. So it can afford to invest in its businesses, both operating cost investment and capital investment from the cash flow that we generate.

So there is no sense of holding back in any way to get the balance sheet further strengthened and not invest in the businesses. Some of the estate investment, which Nick referred to on the chart with quality, range, service and estate and that will come through the freehold site or investment in site through lease and then developing those lease sites. But as you know, we funded a lot of that sort of investment over the last 6 or 7 years from recycling the property portfolio within the group. The value, the net book value is down slightly, but the value in use or expected value of the property portfolio when you value it continues to grow year-on-year. So there's plenty of flexibility there that we can use to invest in the general merchant, and we will continue to do so.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [13]

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And just standing back from that, I think it's fair to say that given the 4 priorities that I laid out in my slide, we have a very full plate of work, and we and the team have had so for nearly 14 or so months now. So as we look carefully at the value drivers that we have talked about and the critical growth levers of which estate is one. As we address those priorities, we'll be able to really clarify our intent around our balance sheet and how we use that in due course. But at the moment, we're really focused on delivering what we said we would deliver.

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Christen David Hjorth, Numis Securities Limited, Research Division - Analyst [14]

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Christen Hjorth from Numis. Just 2 from me, really. First of all, could you touch on the cost inflation backdrop as we look through to 2020?

And perhaps also on the supply chain exposure to China and anything we should be aware of there and recent developments. And then also on Toolstation Europe, clearly, that's a key focus going forward in terms of investment. But over the medium to longer term, does that -- do you still lay the ground for potential other formats in Europe?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [15]

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Super. Thank you. We'll come back to the cost inflation, Alan. Supply chain exposure, I was waiting for a COVID-19 question. Thank you very much. As we all debate what handshake we should or shouldn't use as we greet each other, fist bumps and elbow slaps and everything else. This is a really interesting one, and I should start by saying we've been watching this very, very carefully for weeks, actually, since the beginning of the year. And in some regards, in terms of -- well -- and our first position was around our operations in China, where we have 30 colleagues in Shanghai. Well-being around our colleagues in Shanghai was primary. And then clearly, we started to look at our supply base and so what impact on supply, 2 things I would say, clearly, as Alan mentioned, and you well know, there was a kind of Brexit stocking that we haven't unwound that has given us some resilience in that regard.

But secondly, we budget for the Chinese New Year shutdown anyway. So we're able to manage that within our supply profile, which gives us some resilience. But we watch that very, very closely stayed very closely in contact with, despite the kind of difficulty with our suppliers, pretty much all of whom now are back and operational. There was a sort of 2 to 3-week hiatus of closure, and they're all back, I think, bar one. And so we are well able to cope, we think. Clearly, it's still some uncertainty around what sits at the ports and then what comes into the ports in the U.K. And as we all appreciate, this is moving every single day. So we're confident around having managed our supply chain exposure, and we remain -- I mean, our kind of interest is perhaps pivoting, as we get confidence around the supply chain, it's now sort of what impact in the U.K., but obviously, as of last week or is it now 10 days ago, we have manufacturers and suppliers in Northern Italy.

So again, we're starting to look at actually how do we ensure supply from there. But at the moment, we are confident around that as well. So very focused on it, very focused on core operations in the U.K., but I think we are sufficiently hedged against supply chain impact and intermittency of supplies later in the year. I'll just touch on TSE, if -- I mean, Toolstation Europe, medium, long term. We remain really focused on -- we are finding both in the U.K. and particularly in the Netherlands, obviously, where we have great scale that the convenience of the platform of the format, the proposition really works well for our core trade customers. This really is a core trade proposition and the range and category expansion and the way that's being positioned with our trade customers really reinforces that. So we remain really focused on accelerating the Toolstation growth as opposed to looking at other formats.

And as Alan mentioned, actually, the portability of this format and the rate at which we can deploy means that, actually, that could work in an expanded set of countries in due course. But we are really focused on the Netherlands, and we have, obviously, our trials going on in France, too. So I think medium to longer-term, within that, actually, we remain really focused on Toolstation, because I think that's a really good proposition for our customers and less so on other formats, which might be more the sort of traditional merchant. We're not going to be distracted by that.

Alan, do you want to pick up the cost inflation point?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [16]

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Yes, on cost inflation. First of all, in cost of goods or goods for resale and relatively low levels of inflation, I'd say, similar to what we've seen over the last 24 months, actually would be the outlook for 2020 at this stage. Then in terms of the overhead inflation areas, I think I referred to some of the pressures, one, a tight labor market, which continues. And I, notwithstanding virus concerns, I don't see that getting any easier anytime soon. A government committed to continuing to increase the national living wage. And whilst we employ above the national living wage overall. And there are still upward pressures as that ratchets up over time. And then thirdly, the annualization of the step-up in auto enrollment pensions last April. So there is some impacts early in the year. So certainly, thinking for overheads inflation more in the range of 2.5% overall.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [17]

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Howard?

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Howard David Seymour, Numis Securities Limited, Research Division - Director of Equity Analysis [18]

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Just one from me. Howard Seymour from Numis. Just really on Benchmarx, you alluded at the start to the advantaged companies that you're focusing on. But I just wonder how you see Benchmarx markers, clearly, it is one people would perceive you left the purchasing benefits with Wickes gone. It's not really growing at the moment where, obviously, you are growing because [of the rallies]. So just some thoughts on that please, if possible?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [19]

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The -- just one quick thing on Appendix 3, Howard, you got a chart with the growth in the specialist businesses together, 8% CAGR. I think Benchmarx within that is something like 13% compound annual growth over the period from 2013. So whilst the growth has been more subdued in Benchmarx in the last 18, 24 months, it is a business that's growing pretty well. I think we see that more as an offer to our general builder customers. And the complementarity with the general merchants in the way that we operate in. Nick, I don't know if you got anything ...

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [20]

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Yes, I mean, Howard, I think it's -- irrespective of the Wickes position, I think it's an absolutely critical piece of our offer to our general builder and our professional trade because, clearly, so much of what they do involves the kitchen at some point. And actually, given the overlap and the ability for us to serve those customers through one format with Benchmarx in many of our Travis Perkins general merchant branches, it works. Clearly, like many, the kind of consumer sentiment, particularly in the second half last year and the caution around that impacted big-ticket item purchases like kitchens. And so it's one that we watch, but it's a core part of our proposition going forward.

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Ami Galla, Citigroup Inc, Research Division - Senior Associate [21]

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Ami Galla from Citi. Just 2 questions from me. The first one, I'm sorry, on current trading again. But on specialist merchanting, I was wondering if you could give us some colors, the order intake trends between Q4 and the early start of the year had seen any material shift in that business?

And the second question I had was in Toolstation U.K., the sort of growth momentum has been quite strong in 2019. Can you give us some color as to what proportion of that would probably be on the back of your product range extensions? And what's really the normalized market share gains in the business?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [22]

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Do you want to start?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [23]

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Yes. So on the specialist merchant, Ami -- and we're very comfortable with where order intake is for the business. Clearly, if you're sat in Keyline at the moment with waterlog ground, it's quite tricky for some of the principal contractors to get on the ground, but we always take the view that it's positive in the longer-term and whether we're seeing full drainage and happily Keyline, there was a lot of drainage pipes. So overall, I think the outlook on the specialist is quite good. We saw some slowing in major commercial projects more during the summer.

I think we know we've got the business coming. We know the contractors have won the contracts that we've priced for them. They're just waiting for the -- for the confirmation from the developer to get going, but I'm sure that will feed through in time. On the Toolstation growth element, I think it's a -- sometimes people try and segment, particularly as you get more towards the retail end and then we contend this with Wickes as well. They try and segment between what's your online growth? What's your in-store growth? What's your drop-ship growth? You can't look at the elements separately. It's a whole, and it's building a total proposition for the customer so that they can get what they want, where they want it, when they want it, whether that's delivered to home, pick up in-store, on Click & Collect or go in and use the catalog. So it's coming -- it is a market share play that we've got here. We have extend the range. Some of the range extensions that we've done over the last 12 months, as the business has matured, have gone much more into higher end professional tradesman tools and products. And probably a slightly smaller proportion of own label products that we would have had in the first 10 years or so of the development of the Toolstation. So I'd stress that overall package in terms of how the business grows.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [24]

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Yes, I think that credibility with our trade customer is -- has been at the heart of the range in category extension with brands that we are now at a level where those brands want to be associated with us, and they give us like Festool, for example, in power tools, real high end professional, credible ranges for our trade customers, and we've seen great momentum and pick up through that.

John?

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John Messenger, Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research [25]

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John Messenger from Redburn. Two, if I could. First one was just on the separations and obviously, P&H being set to one side and obviously, operating independently in Wickes as it goes. Can I just understand the GBP 15 million that you've identified as dissynergies, does that encapsulate to kind of the volume rebate, the whole dynamic in terms of what should be a benefit to COGS? Just to understand what is the trade-off in terms of what you're losing on purchasing power through the moves you've made? And just as a follow-up, within P&H as it separate is there now a link between Frank and Arthur in terms of making sure that you have some procurement basis to actually -- because I assume there is a decent amount of plumbing that still goes through the green and gold branches. Just to understand if there's a way of capturing that?

And then the second one was just coming back to kind of the balance between, I guess, delivery management and branches and the evolution over the next few years, Nick, maybe Birmingham is a good example, just to understand a little bit more, is it about the size of branch? How many there need to be or whether it's a large satellite on the edge of accommodation and smaller sites within a city like Birmingham, that is the blueprint for the future? And is that a kind of capital neutral or is that going to be an increased capital employed that you see, specifically around the real estate that the branches will need in that, I think we can all recognize specialists need a much more skeletal kind of branch network, but actually it does. The green and gold need a fundamentally continuing kind of relatively saturated kind of footprint, at least of smaller stores and active sites the delivery or pickup points? That'd be great.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [26]

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Super. Yes, Alan, do you want to take the first one, I'll pick up the separation in connection with P&H?

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [27]

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Yes. So on COGS impact on separation, John, we're seeing very little impact on that. The GBP 15 million of dissynergy is purely an overhead figure. And then on Plumbing & Heating, Arthur retired a number of years ago, just to be precise, I think, you mean Andrew Harrison. So Andrew and Frank are coordinating very closely. So we have monthly meetings with our Commercial Directors that Frank shares and the Plumbing & Heating team and Wickes and incidentally Toolstation are also part of that process.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [28]

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Excellent. And just to add to that, yes, absolute connection for the businesses. And indeed, for many of our larger customers, we ensure that they get the appropriate product from either our general merchant or our P&H business. So actually, as far as the customer is concerned, which is the most important thing, then actually, that seamless in the -- the level of connection of commercial as well as the kind of trading and operations level is really close and really key. So you raised a really interesting question that we are very thoughtful about and focused on around the kind of configuration of assets for the future. We know that, in some cases, and not all cases, some of our branches by dint of history are just suboptimally sized and located for what I said around us wanting to be absolute destinations around core heavyside categories and, indeed, the kind of light side format that we want for the future.

So we're being really -- there's no one size fits all here, John. We're being really careful about saying actually within target conurbations, where do we want the kind of aircraft carrier, that's going to be our destination. And how will that be served by other assets, they might not necessarily be a TP general merchant. We've obviously got a configuration of Toolstation branches that enable us to really serve our customers in a really convenient way. And then for them to access our range in a really convenient way. So we think we're very thoughtful about what the right configuration is, and we'll be making those investment decisions to make sure that we get the market share gain that we want in the places that we want. And so we really are thinking about it much more as a whole than just a straight kind of branch play within particular areas and saying too many of our branches are too small, and therefore, they're not fit for purpose anymore.

We can also think very carefully. And obviously, I'll look forward to talking to you about this in the future about how we think about the changing shape of our customer behavior in the future, which plays into your point around the balance between deliver and collect. I think we've said before that actually, and Alan mentioned it today, we are seeing an increased propensity for deliver over collect, but our collect business stays -- remains really strong. And obviously, as our branch colleagues have been reengaged in that relationship building and service proposition over the last year, we see that remaining really, really important. So we're really thoughtful on those points. And we, as I say -- as I said in my notes, we're really thinking about how we configure those assets and then the underpinning resources and capability to make best from that.

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John Messenger, Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research [29]

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Just one coming back, on the rebate. Yes, has the industry been terrible in the past that just unlocking volume rebates? Because I'm just -- one would think there must have been a trade-off here in the -- particularly in P&H, selling off F&P, you'd expect there to be some impact or is the supplier base effectively just happy to have the distribution and a spread of downstream route to market distributors? And obviously, one of the premises originally for Wickes, was I think GBP 15 million to GBP 20 million of purchasing benefits. Clearly, we can question whether they ever occurred? But I guess the implication here is that there's never really been that benefit captured. Is that the wrong way to think about it? Or just -- just if you step when you think about the whole logic of originally buying this business. Do you expect there would be some trade-off on this departure? And I guess, you're kind of signaling, look, that isn't the case.

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [30]

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Well, I signaled there's no material impact from that. And the GBP 15 million was around COGS. So I think we've looked back as part of the planning on the demerger, we went right back to the Wickes acquisition case. And I think, undoubtedly, you could demonstrate at the time that there were cost synergies. But I believe that the manufacturers earned that back over time. One of the interesting things about the wholesale Plumbing & Heating business, is that we were not only sourcing to supply businesses within the group, but also supplying competitors and therefore, we've always had to manage the PF&P activity pretty separately from the rest of the Plumbing & Heating business and almost I suppose, semi Chinese walls within some of the commercial teams from a manufacturer or supplier management perspective. So that's not really have an impact the other way as we brought the business out of the group.

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William Jones, Redburn (Europe) Limited, Research Division - Partner of Construction & Building Materials Research [31]

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Will Jones also from Redburn. Two, if I could, please. First, just focusing on CCF. Obviously, we're aware that one of your competitors struggled there last year. Would you be willing to share the degree of like-for-like growth you saw within CCF against the circa 3 for general merchanting? And do you think the opportunity there extends into 2020 in terms of potential share gain? And the second was just around the direct-to-site proportion. Do you think that's happening because the largest customers are growing in size? Or is it happening outside of the larger customer growth as well? And I guess, are you willing to give us a percentage of how much is direct-to-site as it were and how that's changed in the last few years?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [32]

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Please cover CCF and I'll pick up the second.

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [33]

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Yes, on CCF, we were very pleased with the performance in the year. It exhibits a good growth, very strong growth in the first half, a much more subdued performance in the second half, which reflected a lot of the issues around allocation, but also some of the slowdown in commercial activity during the -- as I referenced, as we got into August, September. And we saw the commercial sites starting to slow. I see no reason why CCF wouldn't continue to strengthen this market position during 2020 and beyond.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [34]

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On the second part, I think there's a number of dynamics at play here that we've been very thoughtful around and watching very, very carefully. I don't think it's just a larger customer phenomenon. I think certainly, within urban areas, I mean, take this sort of environment here, this is about convenience for our customers about delivering to sites, which themselves are very constrained. And where we can optimize our service to ensure that we get in the right vehicle at the right time, according to the work schedule with the right materials in the right order to go up hoists that are very limited within development sites in centers like this. So I think there's a number of factors. It isn't just about large and small or convenience and things, I think it's about the way in which construction is being done, but also the way in which we can optimize our service proposition, and clearly -- and coming to Charlie's point, as we -- as we experiment the tools that enable us to understand those orders and requirements better then we can fulfill better and delivery within, particularly within urban centers is part of that. So we see this as a real opportunity as opposed to a shift that's against us. We see it as a way in which, again, thinking about how we use our assets and resources, how we build the capability to give that optimized proposition to customers that we retain that greater share of their wallet. So we see this as -- we're really thoughtful about it, looking at it very carefully, and we see it as a real opportunity.

Any questions from the phone?

We have one. Okay. No? Yes, we do.

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Robert Eason, Goodbody Stockbrokers, Research Division - Head of Research [35]

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It's Robert Eason here from Goodbody. Just 2 broad questions. Just given that the underlying markets got tougher as the year progressed. And it looks like Q1 is at a similar level to Q4. I was just wondering how did bad debt evolve through the year and continue to evolve? And are they -- is there much difference between the different segments of the business, whether that's by general merchanting versus specialist merchanting, whether it's between the large contractor versus kind of the small and man in the white van kind of builder? And on similar lines, how did working capital dynamics work during the course of the year, i.e., is there a need to push terms out a bit just to keep the volume going? And my questions on both fronts are what the Travis do on all? And what is the general markets feel like from a bad debt perspective and working capital perspective? So that's my kind of first round of questioning.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [36]

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Thank you, Robert. We look forward to the second round. Yes, Alan.

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [37]

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Go ahead, Robert, with your second series of questions.

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Robert Eason, Goodbody Stockbrokers, Research Division - Head of Research [38]

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Yes. It's just around -- and I just found that the last column on Page 27 to finish and just touched on in an earlier question. Because there might be a perception that the green and gold is a mature brand out there and your clearly pointing to significant opportunities with your top 50 conurbations underindexing, 25% of the estate needing improvement and et cetera. How should we think about the scale of the opportunity that you see because of those 2 statements, so we can just get an understanding of that opportunity?

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [39]

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Okay. Thanks, Robert.

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Alan R. Williams, Travis Perkins plc - CFO & Executive Director [40]

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Yes, on the first one, Robert, you referenced the trend in Q4, continuing into Q1. If you look at our Q4 like-for-like for the group, it was plus 1.2%. I don't think, overall, that we've seen anything in the market that's changed to be honest from that. In terms of the bad debt evolution during the year, bad debt as a percentage of credit sales were similar to 2018 in the year.

We actually had a very good performance on our debtor book in the year. And my -- I should give compliments here to the finance teams in the -- on the collection side, who did a great job for us during the year. So I've not detected any particular changes in the market overall nor in terms of what we've had to do from a debtor book management point of view. What we have seen is occasionally customers who we've traded with for a number of years who just disappear overnight. So we have seen an incidence of subcontractors going under. We've also seen some consolidation of certain players in certain parts of the construction, subcontracting industry merging or bind each other to get through tough trading conditions overall. But I'm not seeing any particular discernible adverse trends at this stage. On the general merchant estate, I think this will be -- it's not something that you can model and say it will be done within 2 or 3 years. It will take a number of years to get this right. And I think it will be a -- when you're dealing with a business with an estate of 650-or-so branches, it's a continuing process of evolving on that. So I wouldn't want to put a number on the scale of that at this stage, but it's certainly very significant. And we think the -- we have the best business in the market in our general merchant. We've had a really good recovery in the business during 2019. We referenced the share gains. I think the level of confidence that the teams have back with more autonomy at a branch and regional manager level is evident and palpable when you're touring around the business. So that augurs well for the business in the future for me.

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Nicholas John Roberts, Travis Perkins plc - CEO & Director [41]

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Yes. And just to add to that, Robert, you used the phrase mature brands, which I respect. I also made the point that we are looking to modernize our thinking. I think any mature brands have still got an opportunity to really modernize and sharpen the way it addresses the market. And I suppose, I look at it with the sort of sense of relentless dissatisfaction and say, well, actually, whereas we might have a sort of 15% market share overall, actually, there are some notable conurbations where we might index at around 8% of market share. And so clearly, with what Alan said and what we both outlined this morning, with the effectiveness of our team, the effectiveness of our proposition and the way in which we're operating our business, we see a real opportunity to further that market share, and we would never be complacent. We're thinking that we might have lots of branches, but that doesn't mean that we are optimally configured. And to John's point, actually thinking very carefully about what format and configuration will win for us in the future. So our aim is always to outperform and so we're looking very hard at that column and the estate issue to make sure that we're well placed over, as Alan said, a number of years to do so.

I think that's it. With that, then, thank you for -- all for coming this morning. Really good to see you, and happy now to take questions offline as we finish up. Thank you.