DIY disaster pushes Woolworths to near-$1bn loss

Woolies store oz Image copyright Getty Images

Woolworths, Australia's biggest supermarket chain, has reported its first loss in 23 years after writing off 3.2bn Australian dollars on its failed DIY chain.

It sank to a A$972.7m ($704m, £502m) first-half loss following the charge for its Masters hardware business.

Woolworths said last month it would sell or close Masters, which failed to win enough customers.

Brad Banducci, the head of food, will become chief executive.

Grant O'Brien said last June that he was stepping down as chief executive after taking up the role in October 2011.

The retailer issued a series of profit warnings last year amid intense competition in the grocery market and heavy losses from the Masters chain.

Image copyright Woolworths
Image caption New Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci

Chairman Gordon Cairns said Mr Banducci, who had 25 years of retail experience and previously ran the company's liquor retailing operations, was "uniquely positioned" for the role.

"He clearly understands the Australian market, has a total commitment to our customers, and a great track record of growing valuable businesses," he said.

Sales fell 1.4% to A$32bn, reflecting lower trading in food and general merchandise and the sale of 131 stores at Caltex petrol stations.

"This turnaround is three to five years and it will not be three to five minutes," said Mr Cairns.

Woolworths said it was shifting focus to its supermarket business to compete against rival Coles as well as discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, both relatively recent entrants to the Australian market.

Image copyright Getty Images

Woolworths shares closed 2% higher in Sydney on Friday, but are still down by a third over the past 12 months.

Excluding the write-offs, the company posted a net profit of A$925.8m ($670m; £479.7m) for the six months to December, down 33% on the same period in 2014.

The company cut its interim dividend by more than a third to 44 cents a share.

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