Troubled dealer group Lookers is close to solving one of the issues in its triple whammy of setbacks – its 2019 accounts.
Rumours are circulating among the motor trade that Lookers is imminently due to finally release its four times-delayed accounts for last year.
The accounts were due to be released this week, according to reports, but that was pushed back internally to next week.
It’s thought the fact Vertu released a stellar set of results may have spooked the Lookers team.
The finalisation of the 2019 numbers is just one of a three-pronged set of problems for the dealer group, which suspended its shares in July.
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It’s also waiting for the results of an FCA investigation and grappling with an internal fraud probe.
‘They are ready to be signed off,’ said an insider.
‘They were due this week, but are likely to be out next week – but with all that’s happened this year, I wouldn’t bet my house on that even now.’
One car industry specialist said the results were a near ‘impossible task’ to compile as they combined the ramifications of the fraud investigation and FCA battle, just as the firm is battling Covid-19 shutdowns and potential issues from Brexit and further local restrictions.
‘It’s a horrible situation – the company has just been battered and then battered again – you’ve got to feel for them,’ said one dealer group boss.
‘They’re had a triple whammy of issues – getting the accounts out will help, but we’re all waiting to see what happens with the fraud investigation and FCA.’
If Lookers manages to finally release the 2019 accounts – a year that the group still believes will be profitable on an underlying basis – its shares still might not be retraded.
Shares were suspended at 21p on July 1 and have not traded since as the group missed the official June 30 deadline to finalise its accounts.
But even if the accounts are finalised shares may not be retraded until the results of the FCA investigation are revealed.
The probe was launched by the City watchdog after an internal investigation at Lookers found ‘control issues’ that needed to be improved in its sales processes.
Lookers handed its internal findings over to the FCA, which launched its own investigation, and that is yet to be resolved.
This has been compounded by problem number three – a fraud investigation that has deepened as more stones are overturned.
The fraud investigation is intrinsically linked to the accounts delays as it was the first reason they were held back in March.
Lookers appointed Grant Thornton to lead an investigation which kept deepening. The investigation relates to how bonuses from manufacturers have been accounted and started in one division. Lookers admitted its early findings would result in a £4m charge on its accounts and there’s likely to be more.
On June 5, the group said the probe was ‘nearing completion’, but a week later backtracked and said it needed more time, promising its results by the end of August.
However, six weeks ago the firm told the Stock Market it needed even more time as it grappled with unravelling the extent of the fraud.
On August 20, it said: ‘Following review of the final report from Grant Thornton on August 3, the board and its auditors, Deloitte LLP, extended the scope of the 2019 audit at consolidated group and individual entity level.
‘The extended scope of the audit has identified further work on the group’s corporate leasing division and vehicle financing arrangements and the 2018 and earlier balance sheets to ensure correct identification and allocation of adjustments.
‘Further work is ongoing to finalise the 2019 accounts.’
It added that the ‘magnitude’ of the restatements would still not prevent 2019 as being profitable. Perhaps next week we’ll finally find out.
August 20, 2020 – Accounts delayed for the fourth time and no promise given as to when they’ll be published.
June 9, 2020 – Lookers says it will suspend shares on July 1. Delays accounts for third time and says they’ll be published ‘no later than the end of August 2020’.
June 5, 2020 – Lookers says it will axe 12 dealerships, cut 1,500 jobs.
May 2020 – Pendragon CEO Bill Berman admits he wrote to Lookers to discuss a merger and updates Stock Market to that effect. Move described as ‘two drunk men bumping into each other in a bar’.
April 2020 – Fraud investigation deepens. £4m charge revealed and firm says there could be more. Delays accounts to June.
March 12, 2020 – New chief operating officer Cameron Wade leaves role after only a month in post
March 11, 2020 – Lookers delays results saying in final stages of preparation ‘potentially fraudulent transactions’ in one division were discovered. Promises results in April.
November 2019 – Chief executive Andy Bruce and chief operating officer Nigel McMinn leave firm abruptly
June 2019 – FCA launches review into sales processes at Lookers between January 2016 and June 2019. Lookers cannot ‘estimate what effect, if any, the outcome of the investigation may have’.
December 2018 – Lookers launches independent internal audit into sales process. It eventually finds ‘control issues’ in sales process where ‘improvements’ are needed. Findings handed to FCA.