Langton Capital – 2020-03-16 – Covid-19, pub sales, delivery, Time Out, holiday shutdown etc.:
Covid-19, pub sales, delivery, Time Out, holiday shutdown etc.:
A DAY IN THE LIFE:
Differing views chez Langton on how & what to panic buy.
Of course, we’ve left it late but ‘we need water and chocolate,’ says daughter. ‘Beer and, well, more beer,’ says I ‘and batteries for the TV remote’ and, though the Matriarch suggested frozen food, tins of beans & toilet roll, it was daughter and I that did the shopping, so what did we buy?
Well leaving the shopping list & wallet at home limited us to our memory and the fifty quid emergency petrol money in the glove box. Not a good start & we just stocked up on bags of compost, a Mothers’ Day card, 12 bags of crisps, six pints of milk, the chocolate, of course and a squeaky toy for the dog.
None of which seemed to go down very well & I’ve been sent to London for the week to contemplate what I’ve done. On to the news:
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MAJOR SHOCKS: A window on trading. We solicited feedback on trading over the weekend, here are some comments received. 16 Mar 2020:
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How is trading?
• The impact of Covid-19 is unprecedented.
• We asked for feedback on LfL trading, costs, interactions with landlords and banks, other issues, capital spending etc.
• We are circulating the replies to the general email list as this is such a major issue at present for our industry.
• We asked questions under three headings, sales (can you hold them?), costs (can you cut them?) and other (capex, government support etc.)
How are sales holding up?
• Poorly with sequentially worse days as last week progressed. From today, some operators believe, it could be worse.
• Community pubs are ‘less bad’. They may have managed minus 7% last week. But it started minus 3% and Saturday, with no football, was down up to 18%.
• London and the major cities are worse. The City is bad. Travel hubs ditto. These areas are down 30% plus with travel down perhaps 35% to 45% and trending lower. Suburban managed bars are ‘down 25%’ with suburban pubs down by a lesser amount. Some university areas have been weak.
• Forward bookings are down 30% or more. Mothers’ Day cancellations are exceeding bookings. The o70s could be locked down by next Sunday.
• Conferences have ‘collapsed’. Bookings have been cancelled at short notice. Operators have kept deposits, but this is still a problem.
• Delivery has either not moved much or, in some cases, it has ‘doubled’. It’s still too small to make much of a difference.
• Confusingly, some operators say older customers have held up well whilst others say the younger customers have kept coming. Over time, we would expect the latter to be stronger than the former.
• Casual dining sites are down by perhaps 20% overall. Travel sites & city centres are the worst areas. There was a sequential worsening last week.
• Tenanted sites will lag managed – but the trends are the same.
• Saturday was perhaps down 35% in some cases. Down by 50% plus in travel sites. The latter could go to almost 100% down this week.
• Drinks companies, unsurprisingly, have seen off-trade demand rise. There are concerns about bad debts in the on-trade. Exports have ‘collapsed’.
• Conclusion. Bad and getting worse. But London – and specifically the City of London – is somewhat atypical. Sales bounced back sharply after the financial crisis. We may be at the peak of media hype. There is some feel that the government is absent. The timing of reports matters. JDW reports Friday. March year end or half year end companies will have had a disastrous end to the period. This is about cash flow and survival rather than preserving LfL growth (or even dividend progression).
What can you do about costs?
• The trade ‘needs to lay staff off’. Hourly staff will be the first to go. Fixed staff could be asked to reduce their hours or take unpaid leave.
• Landlords are (in the majority of responses) being somewhat accommodating. This will vary across landlords.
• Banks are similarly mixed. RBS / Nat West has been mentioned as helpful (at least verbally) and some others less so. The banks do not want to end up owning the High Street
• There have been no problems to date with food or drink deliveries or with rubbish collection. There is some food price deflation out there.
• There is a reluctance to pay rent, rates, bank interest, loan repayments and the government in its many tax guises.
• There has been no coordinated government response. Mr Johnson said F business and he appears to be working hard at that.
• More drastic measures could include putting assets on the bank / landlord & offering to run them, cutting or passing dividends etc.
• Hours ‘cannot be cut much past 33%’ as it would otherwise not be worth staying open
• Some could ‘keep going to end-May’. Others have already written to landlords, dismissed staff and stopped paying bills
• It would help if Sky suspended its charges whilst it is showing no football
• All capex projects have been halted. Some talk of ‘expansion opportunities’ seems a bit premature
• There could be a ‘massive correction’ in property values about to happen.
• It could be a ‘good time to close pubs if there is necessary maintenance work in the offing’.
• This will ‘finish off a lot of restaurant groups who were hanging on by their fingernails and narrowly avoided CVAs previously.’
• Some consumers are more worried about going on public transport than they are about standing in a pub. This could help suburban outlets.
• Gyms are ‘very bad’.
• Alix Partners has some good advice on crisis management committees etc.
• There is ‘no hint of a shutdown coming via the trade bodies’. These should have been consulted but, if the government is making up policy on the hoof, an immediate, no-notice shutdown cannot be excluded.
• Insurance policies may, just may, kick in if there is a mandatory shutdown. Arguing about this may keep the lawyers happy
• How long will this go on? Absolutely unknown. Some suggesting 13wks, others 20wks. Probably not less.
• This could ‘undo two decades worth of steady growth’ in a matter of weeks.
• In Denmark, the government is paying 75% of wages for three months. France is to spend €100bn on business & Norway c€9bn. No word yet in the UK. Grandiose capital spending schemes on rail, roads, buses etc. need an operational tax base from which to raise the revenue.
• The Prime Minister’s chief Economics SPAD (special advisor) is former broker Douglas McNeill. He has his hands full at present. If you find out his direct telephone number, then please let us know.
CORONAVIRUS – BUSINESS BEGINNING TO STUTTER TO A HALT.
As a result of official guidance in some countries but in the absence of it in others such as the UK, much of business is dealing with the reality of the Covid-19 outbreak & curtailing activities. We have seen:
• Policy may be playing catchup with reality. Herd immunity is a sound bite. It isn’t clear yet if the current strategy, if there is one, is the scientists’ recommendation or just one of a number of options laid before politicians.
• We may need government (i.e. us, the taxpayer) to cover say 75% of wage bills and 75% of rental bills for a 3mth period. Certainly, national debt would rise in the short term and taxes would rise thereafter – but it may avoid a more destructive collapse.
• Jet2holidays has suspended its programme to Spain. On Saturday it turned back a number of its planes mid-air. It will fly empty legs out to Spain in order to bring passengers already in the country home. TUI has also suspended flights to Spain. It has now gone on to suspend ‘most’ of its travel operations. There has been no guidance from the government on this issue and flights to Spain remain allowed by law. Cosmos is reported to be suspending all global operations for travel until the end of April. Jet2 has suspended flights to France. Club Med has shut its ski resorts for the rest of the season. Inghams has suspended its holidays.
• Realpolitik. TUI is not paying prepayments to hoteliers. Contracts often have force majeure clauses and, even if they don’t, they become meaningless in extremis.
• The US will extend its ban on entry from European countries to the UK & Ireland. American citizens returning to the US had 7hr waits in airports before being screened.
• New Zealand is effectively closing its borders. UK citizens may not visit the Czech Republic. A large number of countries are implementing similar measures. Poland shut its borders on Saturday night.
• Hotels globally have been ‘withdrawing earnings guidance’. Occupancy in Milan and Venice is between 5% and 10%. Hotels can offer room service, but their restaurants are unable to open in several countries. Occupancies in other geographies are thought to be 30% to 70% down.
• The WTTC says that 50 million tourism jobs could be lost globally.
• BA is to ground flights ‘like never before’. It is laying off staff. Norwegian has laid off half its staff. BA sent an email to staff saying this was a ‘crisis of global proportions’. The email was entitled ‘The Survival of British Airways’.
• SAS is to ground ‘most’ flights & lay off 90% of its staff. It says demand has ‘more or less disappeared’.
• An untold number of conferences have been cancelled. This has been left to the discretion of the organisers as no official guidelines have been given. Only a Pavement Away has suspended its annual conference. The Casual Dining 2020 conference, having said that ‘the clear advice from the government and health secretary Matt Hancock is for people not to panic and for large gatherings to continue as normal’ has also cancelled. It has re-booked Excel for 14-15 July. It is our sincere wish that that does not prove to be optimistic. The Cruise Line Industry Association has cancelled, its annual conference etc. etc.
• H1 and full year financial results meetings are now switching to webcasts or conference calls. There will be no face to face meeting with Morrison’s numbers on Wednesday nor will JD Wetherspoon be hosting a physical meeting on Friday.
Restaurants & pubs:
• All still open but lacking diners. Starbucks is reported to be considering drive-through only at some sites. Footfall across casual diners down between 5% and 35% with falls of 50% at airports. Staff being laid off where possible. Landlords and government (VAT, payroll taxes etc.) may not be paid in the short term. See Premium Email for feedback on current trading.
• Delivery. This is busy but it is not large enough to rescue the entire industry. Following travels in Italy last year, Langton still gets emails from a restaurant in Milan. Monday last week it cautioned that it would have to shut at 6pm. By Thursday, it was telling us it was shut, but could deliver ‘our bit of Italy’ into our homes (at least until 10pm.) The operator works with Deliveroo and Uber.
• Pubs in the Republic of Ireland must close from today.
• The Premier League and the Football League have suspended the seasons in the UK. The end of the season couldn’t come quickly enough for the mighty Hull City, which has taken two points from the last thirty. The Premier League will consider recommencing fixtures on 4 April
• The NBA has suspended its season in the US. The London Marathon is toast. Grand Prix races are suspended. No comment yet on the summer Euro football matches or on the Olympics (but I think we can tell which way the wind is blowing).
• Uniworld is suspending European river cruises for at least a month. Saga will not host cruises until at least 1 May. Royal Caribbean says it is ‘pausing the fleet’s US sailings for 30 days.’ MSC cruises has suspended US-based operations until end-April (at least). Disney Cruise Lines has shut down ‘temporarily’. Celebrity Cruises has suspended global operations.
• Universal Orlando is shut for at least the rest of this month, Disney theme parks are shut in Florida. Paris is also shut.
• Apple is closing all stores globally except those, ironically, in China. UK local elections scheduled for May are to be postponed for a year. The Queen has cancelled a number of engagements. President Trump has tested negative for the virus.
• Premium Email for trading feedback and foot of this note for comments on Realpolitik in this sort of extreme situation.
PUBS & RESTAURANTS:
• Carluccio’s has written to landlords requesting a 3mth moratorium on rental payments. The group is making clear that the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak has sharply reduced revenues and made current rental terms inappropriate.
• France has said it will spend tens of billions of euros to help firms that have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Norway has similarly said that it will spend 100bn crowns (around €9bn) to help its companies. The UK has yet to make a commitment.
• JD Wetherspoon’s pubs in the Republic of Ireland will be obliged to close from today. It is unclear whether companies affected will have recourse to their insurance companies.
• JDW reports H1 numbers via conference call on Friday. It said last Thursday that it has been impacted more by poor weather than it has ‘by the health scare’.
• Time Out says it ‘has until now not experienced any material impact on its trading related to the COVID‐19 outbreaks. It is only in very recent days that we have observed any change in footfall to the Time Out Markets and delays to advertising campaigns.’ I think we know which way this is going.
• Time Out says ‘the Company will review its funding and ability to manage its cost base to meet the challenges of the current trading environment and will update further on 26 March 2020 with the publication of its results for the year ended 31 December 2019.’
• Advisory partner at TriSpan and founder of Tortilla, Brandon Stephens has told restaurant operators that they should plan for the worst-case scenario with the coronavirus outbreak. Stephens said: ‘The possibility of the UK Government following what has happened in Italy is scary. We’ve run a number of scenarios, 20% down, 40% down. But what if we were 100% down? What would we do? It’s very surreal. For those looking at planning its worth looking at the worst case scenario’.
• Deliveroo has launched a ‘no-contact drop-off’ service in a bid to help reduce consumer concerns, as the Coronavirus outbreak develops.
• Chipotle Mexican Grill has announced it will offer free delivery in the US in order to aid those not wishing to leave their homes due to the viral outbreak.
• Grubhub in the US has announced that it will temporarily suspend the collection of up to $100m in commission payments from coronavirus impacted independent restaurants nationwide.
• The state of New York is calling on venues, including bars and restaurants to reduce their capacity by 50% in an effort to minimise human contact and slow the spread of coronavirus.
• Petrol forecourt operator, EG Group has acquired the largest KFC franchise in the UK and Ireland, The Herbert Group.
• Pernod Ricard has invested in the Italian premium bergamot-infused aperitivo brand Italicus.
• Per MCA, there were 4.6bn food to go visits in Q4 2019, up 7.9% yoy.
• Black Eagle Brewery, trading as Truman’s, has announced that MD James Morgan ceased to be a director of the company on 10 March.
• Tweets over the weekend. 1. Jet2holidays cancels all flights to Spain w. immediate effect. Others may follow. Airports & their restaurants won’t be busy to say the least. 2. Jet2 says restaurants, bars, shops & water activities in Spain are all closed. It wouldn’t be fair to sent customers on a non-holiday holiday. 3. None of this is good for travel. But suburban pubs could be more robust (while still open). No overseas holidays, more home working etc.
• UKHospitality has claimed the coronavirus presents an ‘existential threat’ to the sector in a letter to Chancellor Sunak. CEO Kate Nicholls said , without help, ‘a significant number’ of jobs could disappear by May.
• The letter suggests introducing measures ‘to permit temporary staff redundancies where demand falls substantially – with Universal Credit covering wage costs’.
• The letter also called for the suspension of business rates payments for all hospitality businesses for this year, and, extending Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) coverage to hospitality businesses of all size.
• The NIESR cautions that the upcoming increase in the NLW will increase costs ‘disproportionately in those poorer regions of the country the Prime Minister wants to help.’
• Retailers have urged shoppers to only buy what they need and not stockpile, with sales of pasta, antibacterial soap, cleaning products, tinned goods and some medicine already being subjected to limits.
HOLIDAYS & LEISURE TRAVEL:
• The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential travel to regions of Spain designated as ‘areas of community transmission of coronavirus’.
• The Foreign Office warns that UK travellers to Croatia will have to spend two weeks in isolation.
• The FCO warned that there was a ‘high risk’ of Britons being put into 14 days of quarantine as part of travel restrictions imposed by Vietnam.
• Iata is demanding governments take immediate action to ease the crisis facing the sector amid the Covid-19 crisis, saying ‘These are extraordinary times and governments are taking unprecedented measures.’
• The Guardian reports the UK could be added to the US travel ban after Trump said a rise in confirmed cases in the UK could see it added to the list.
• Tui has announced it will suspend ‘the vast majority of all travel operations’ until further notice.
• Holidaymakers planning to travel to France are being asked by Ighams not to go to the airport as ski lifts in resorts are being closed for the rest of the season.
• Gfinity has reported that ‘the start of the second half of this financial year has not seen commercial opportunities materialise as expected, and discussions around strategic partnerships have also not progressed as quickly as anticipated.’ It says ‘the challenging market conditions have now been exacerbated by the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 virus which is forcing the postponement of all live sporting and esports events.’ Gfinity has undertaken a strategic review. It is cutting costs and changing its management team.
FINANCE & ECONOMICS:
• The Fed has cut rates in the US to zero. This helps but it means the Fed has no bullets left.
• PM Boris Johnson is to urge business to manufacture ventilators. This some 4mths after Covid-19 first appeared in China.
• Manufacturing has fallen to the lowest level in 3yrs even before the coronavirus crisis struck reports Make UK.
• Sterling lower on concerns that the UK is not reacting to Covid-19 appropriately at $1.2335 and €1.1086. Oil lower at $32.28. UK 10yr gilt yield up 14bps at 0.42. Markets mixed to better last Friday (an age ago) but Far East lower in Monday trade. UK FTSE100 set to open down around 200pts.
START THE DAY WITH A SONG:
Last Friday’s song was I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher. Today, who sang:
The son was an OK guy,
They had a pet dragonfly
The dragonfly it ran away
But it came back with a story to say
RETAIL WITH NICK BUBB:
• Saturday’s Press and News (1): As the UK sports industry shut down of its own accord, as players/managers began to get the coronavirus, the front page headlines in the Saturday papers were full of the rumoured “U-turn” by the Government on banning public meetings, as debate raged about why the UK is so out of line with the social lockdowns being imposed by so many other European countries…The FT ran with “Johnson U-turns on virus fight with steps to ban mass events” and also highlighted on its front page the warning from the boss of BA that the airline faces a fight for survival. On other pages, the FT had articles about the likely revenue/job losses in the embattled Travel industry (“Journey into fear for hotels and tour operators”) and Sports industry (“Sports suffers multibillion-dollar hit”), as well as the sourcing problems in the fashion industry (“Chaotic supply chains and low
• Saturday’s Press and News (2): In terms of Retail news, the Daily Mail had several snippets, including the report from Springboard of a further slump in footfall last week, but it also highlighted (as did the Times) that Morrisons has become the first big supermarket to pay small suppliers immediately (to help them survive the current crisis) and featured Morrisons in its “Popular Shares” column ahead of next week’s results. The Daily Mail also flagged that on Thursday next week Next will hit its profit targets for last year, thanks to strong Online growth and it also noted that John Lewis has launched a personalised fashion advice service on Instagram.
• Sunday’s Press and News (1): The Sunday papers were full of gloom and doom and we will spare you some of the more scary front-page headlines, but the Sunday Times Business section led with “Global recession looms as coronavirus wreaks havoc”, whilst the Sunday Telegraph Business section went with “Lockdown SOS for UK economy” (as well as “Housing recovery killed off as viewings collapse over virus”)…As panic buying continued in supermarkets, a photo of the devastated shelves of the Tesco Extra store in Colney Hatch was widely featured and an article in the Sunday Times about the food supply chain issues quoted one supermarket Chairman as saying that there will be shortages “if buying continues at the volume we’ve seen in the past week”. The Sunday Telegraph News pages highlighted that Apple is closing all its stores outside China (!) for 2 weeks, to help with “social distancing”. And
• Sunday’s Press and News (2): The Budget last Wednesday seems a long time ago now, but the Sunday Times Economics correspondent David Smith noted in his column that Government spending will reach £1 trillion in two years’ time, up from £851bn in 2018/19 (hence the headline “Chancellor places his bets on a £1 trillion gamble”) and flagged that “It was a pity that Sunak decided to exaggerate some of his numbers” (ie £18bn of the so-called £30bn stimulus in the Budget had already been announced). In terms of Retail news, the Sunday Times had an article about the exit from Asia by Tesco and the failure of most UK retailers Overseas, but its “Inside the City” investment column (penned by its Retail correspondent this week) tipped WH Smith as a Buy, despite its disastrously timed US airport shop acquisition.
• Sunday’s Press and News (3): Noting that the collapse in shopper footfall is further bad news for the embattled shopping centres, the Business Leader column in the Observer thundered that the time has come for the beleaguered Intu Properties to sell its crown jewels like the Trafford Centre in Manchester. The Observer also flagged that Amazon is to open its first checkout-free convenience store in the UK in Notting Hill. In terms of result previews, the Mail on Sunday (which also highlighted that Amazon has made inquiries about taking over the National Lottery) noted that Ocado will update the market next week on recent trading and prospects for its M&S jv, whilst the Sunday Telegraph flagged that Next will lower its forecasts for the new year with its finals on Thursday. The Sunday Telegraph also had a feature on how a secret Vatican investment fund made some ill-judged Retail
• Stockmarket Watch: The FTSE 100 index looks set to open in the red again this morning after the US Federal Reserve’s decision last night to cut interest rates to near zero sent a wave of panic across Asia’s main markets, despite the big late rally on Wall Street on Friday. With the Nikkei index in Japan closing 2.5% down overnight, the FTSE 100 index is expected by the spread-betting firms to be over 130 points down at the start of trading.
• Primark: The parent company, the food conglomerate ABF, only issued a trading update for the 24 weeks to end Feb some 3 weeks ago, but given the rapidly changing nature of the impact of the coronavirus it has rushed out an update to clarify the impact of the lockdowns in Europe on Primark. Back on Feb 24th the concern was about the Chinese supply chain and that is now broadly back to normal, but the concern now is store closures and Primark has flagged that the closures in Italy, France, Spain and Austria represent 20% of its space and 30% of its sales. And the rest of the chain has seen recent LFL sales declines accelerate over the past few days as a result of reduced footfall.
• News Flow This Week: There is plenty of scheduled news from companies this week for investors to focus on, kicking off with the ScS interims tomorrow. Wednesday then brings the Morrisons finals and the Pendragon finals, whilst the much-awaited Next finals and the Ocado Q1 update are on Thursday. And, given the recent WH Smith profit warning (plus the Primark and Kingfisher warnings today) about the impact of the coronavirus, there could be more “unscheduled” news from companies this week…
This was covered in the premium email last week. We are asking ‘where does the buck stop?’ It’s hard not to conclude that, whatever contracts with bankers, staff and landlords may say, the buck on this one will stop with the taxpayer.
Passing the buck:
• Capitalism doesn’t allow fat to accrue and few businesses have ‘rainy day’ funds that are large enough to cope with an ongoing lack of revenue
• Of course, the length and depth of the downturn in trade will be very important in calculating the financial hit
• But it could be large, and, in extremis, realpolitik will trump contracts. Some contracts will have ‘force majeure’ clauses and, even if they not, can’t pay, won’t pay may be invoked instead.
• Be the contracts in question relating to employment or property or bank debt, they may be up for discussion.
• Bad stuff (insert your own rude 4-letter word here) rolls or trickles downhill. Companies will seek to shed staff and not pay rent, rates and bank interest. This makes their problem everyone’s problem. The fact that they are breaching contracts may not be something that they can afford to worry about in the very short term
• Businesses => landlords & banks => banks => government => the taxpayer.
• That’s the way it is. Norwegian is laying off half its staff, TUI isn’t paying prepayments, various restaurants are making staff redundant etc. This will be done, where possible, legally but, if such behaviour isn’t in the respective contracts, then it may happen anyway.
• The government seems to get this. At least a bit as it has made changes to sick pay rules and the like. It may have to do much, much more.
• HMG may have to stand behind the banks and tell them, order them, not to bust UK PLC ‘just because the contract says they can’.
Looking through this:
• Because, at the moment, we are waiting for the wave to break.
• And it will break and nearly all of us along with all of the bricks and mortar, brand values and the rest will still be here and we will have to dust ourselves off and get on with life.
• Of course the contracts may say that, because of failures to pay this or that or breaches of the other, the owners of these assets could change
• But do we really want the banks owning all of the High Street, the retail parks, the restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs and a large number of other businesses?
• Because, not to put too fine a point of it, the banks couldn’t run a bath far less 1,000s of diverse corporate entities, it would be grossly inefficient.
• Hence the government should and may well have to step up and stop this inexorable process from happening
Some harsh truisms:
• All businesses can hold their breath underwater for a while. With no income some would last days, others months – but none of them can last forever
• Jonathan Downey suggests that some central London businesses have seen a 25% to 50% drop in LfL sales
• Contracts mean nothing when there is a gun to your head
• All costs are variable in extremis
• It’s not what the contract says, but what actually happens that matters
• The government is going to have to raise its game quickly
• Industry needs help. Sure, there will be freeloaders and chancers running already-failing businesses who’ll want help as well but, as with the TARP in the US, that can maybe be sorted out later (otherwise there may be no ‘later’)
TRADING STATEMENTS & EVENTS:
Upcoming results are set out below:
• 18 Mar 20 Morrison’s FY numbers
• 19 Mar 20 Everyman Media FY numbers
• 19 Mar 20 Gym Group FY numbers
• 20 Mar 20 JD Wetherspoon H1 numbers
• 23 Mar 20 Gfinity H1 numbers
• 24 Mar 20 888 Holdings FY numbers
• 25 Mar 20 DP Eurasia FY numbers
• 25 Mar 20 Ten Entertainment FY numbers
• 26 Mar 20 Time Out FY numbers
• 26 Mar 20 Bank of England MPC meeting
• 2 Apr 20 Saga FY numbers
• 3 Apr 20 Constellation Brands numbers
• 9 Apr 20 Hollywood Bowl H1 trading update
• 28 Apr 20 Pepsi Co Q1 numbers
• 29 Apr 20 YUM Brands Q1 numbers
• 12 May 20 On the Beach H1
• 13 May 20 Marston’s H1 numbers
• 13 May 20 Stock Spirits H1
• 13 May 20 C&C full year numbers
• 11 Jun 20 Fuller’s FY numbers
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