Business

Thomas Cook catches Brexit 'flu as Britons fail to book

Thomas Cook says it has had multiple offers for its up for sale airline ( Reuters )

No springtime sunshine for Thomas Cook, then. The tour operator has just announced a thumping pre tax loss of £1.46bn for the half year ending March 31.

That was largely down to an accounting write down, but it the underlying cash deficit also widened to £282m. What really spooked the City, however, was a sharp rise in its debt. It smashed through the £1bn barrier, and ended up £300m above it.

The company was beset by multiple woes during the period in question, most notably a case of the Brexit business ‘flu that’s becoming something of an epidemic on these shores.

In Cook’s case, the symptoms have been caused by many of its traditional customers sitting on their hands. The potential implications for international travel - the Conservative Party’s mad project could impact upon documents, driving, insurance and more besides - has made this seem like much the most sensible option.

The business might have been able to more easily weather that storm had other markets not also suffered from uncertainty and slow business. Demand for winter sun was down in the Nordic region, for example. Hotel and fuel costs have been rising at a time when it has had to resort to promotional activity to tempt customers.

Navigating such choppy waters would be difficult for any company. Cook is trying to it with the dead weight of that debt pile attached to its keel.

No wonder shareholders have been jumping for the lifeboats. The statement knocked 16 per cent of a price that has been on the slide for a long time now.

The company sought to reassures those investors who have retained fatih by saying it has secured some financial buoyancy from its lenders while pointing to multiple bidders for its up for sale airline.

But Britain’s best known tour operator has been here before, and not all that long ago. In the early years of this decade stories about it also regularly talked of lifelines, turnarounds, and refinancing deals. Lenders have had to exercise an awful lot of patience with this business.

There has inevitably been speculation about Chinese shareholder Fosun stepping in with a bid. Its fellow investors would probably welcome such a move at this point. The group might benefit from a spell out of the spotlight too.

But would it, or any other bidder, be throwing good money after bad by pumping it in?

That’s the question at a time when holidays in the Cook boardroom should have long ago been cancelled.

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