(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Seven West’s 2018-19 annual report and results, released on Tuesday, reveal a massive loss for the second time in three years. This comes after the company wrote down the value of its TV licences and newspaper mastheads to $478 million (of a total of $611 million for all write downs). That pushed the company into a loss of more than $444 million for the year to June — against a net profit for 2017-18 of $133.6 million.

The results suggest the company desperately needs a capital injection to steady its weak financial structure. The slide in the company’s health helps explain the 30% slump in the share price this year (and over 63% in the past year). While Seven West cut its gross debt from $769 million at June 30 last year to $653.8 million this year, that still exceeds the company’s market value of around $603 million.

This news comes in the wake of the departure of Seven West’s long-time CEO Tim Worner; he was replaced by Seven and Ten executive James Warburton.

Looking towards 2019-20 — with the economy expected to slow and no real wage growth on the horizon, the impact of weak demand hitting advertisers and the growth of streaming services (Disney+ joins Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now in the streaming space) — things are not going to get any easier for Kerry Stokes and Warburton.

Seven is forecasting yet another 5% to 10% drop in earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), down to a range of $190-200 million. That’s compared to the $212-235 million forecast for 2018-19 in 2017-18, when the last huge impairment was revealed.

Seven’s share price was around 75 cents when that announcement was made — it has halved in that time to 38 cents. A year ago Seven and Worner were forecasting a 5-10% rise in EBIT. In February of this year that forecast was downgraded to no real change, and in a June update it became the fall of 5% to 10%.

The latest write down has slashed the value of Seven West’s net equity to just $103 million, down from $533 million the previous year — pushing the total accumulated deficits to a massive $3.3 billion. Seven said $415 million of impairments were made against the value of TV licences and $37 million against the value of print mastheads. A total of more than $26 million was written off against goodwill and the value of computer software.

Seven says its debt “is still within covenants’’ set by its banks. That debt has been refinanced out to 2020-21, but the pressure remains on Seven and Stokes to strengthen the company’s capital base. The only way to do that is via a capital raising. This would be next to impossible given the collapse in the price in the past year and the fact that, at 38 cents, the price is around all-time lows.

Tuesday’s $611 million write down leaves the balance sheet value of the intangible assets at a still massive $565 million (against $1.03 billion a year ago). With net assets of just $105 million to support the balance sheet, Seven no longer has any headroom to take a further write down or losses without moving into a situation of negative equity. That is what happened at Ten in 2016-17, eventually helping to crush the company.

The most logical answer is for Stokes, through his key company Seven Group Holdings, to inject fresh capital in a placement. That could raise around $160 million without needing approval from a shareholders’ meeting.

Seven Group Holdings wrote down the value of its Seven stake in February by $225 million (that was after the shares slid in the July-December 2018 period) and faces a similar sized write down in its 2018-19 results which are due out this week.

The big question now: will Stokes and the rest of the board really want to invest more money in Seven West after taking over $400 million in write downs?

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and protect yourself against news that goes viral.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey