Auto Trader returns to free advertising as UK lockdowns return

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Auto Trader Group plc (LON:AUTO) scrapped its interim dividend as most of the UK went into a second coronavirus lockdown this week.

The online car and van reseller also announced free advertising packages for December and extended payment terms for November sales after car retailers were among the non-essential retailers forced to close in the new coronavirus lockdowns in England and Wales.

This is the second period in which the FTSE 100-listed group has discounted its products, but management said this time they were doing so “with greater confidence”, having seen the business recover strongly in the first half.

For the six months to end-September, which included free advertising in the months of April and May, revenue was down 37% to £118.2mln, profit before tax 48% lower at £66.2mln and cash generated from operations reduced by 50% to £66.1mln.

The second half started reasonably well, with audience volumes “substantially” above prior year levels, live vehicle stocks “improving through October” and both retailer forecourts and average revenue per retailer “consistent with the prior year level”.

Total costs for the full year are expected to be down at a rate of low-mid single digits with December marketing spend reduced and “no intention of using the government’s furlough programme”.

The shares were down 1% to 586.2p in early trading on Thursday.

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