William Hill takes a pummelling as weather disrupts horse racing

FROZEN football pitches and horse-racing courses are likely to have "weighed heavily" on William Hill's financial performance as the bookmaker prepares to unveil fourth-quarter results this week.

Analysts at Numis Securities predict the number of horse races fell by 5 per cent last month due to the ice and snow, with further disruption this month.

But they believe William Hill will be generally upbeat, following a strong third quarter when its betting shop business weathered a run of punter-friendly football results.

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The group cheered investors in October with news that its retail division was on track to meet full-year expectations, helped by reduced costs and higher-than-forecast turnover as successful customers punted more of their winnings.

This was in contrast to rival Ladbrokes, which reported a 58 per cent drop in quarterly profits and announced plans for a rights issue.

A barren run of football results hit the industry at the start of the season, reflecting the low incidence of draws and high number of wins recorded by favourites such as Chelsea and Manchester United.

William Hill said the amount left by losing punters fell by 21 per cent in the three months to 29 September, but that retail revenues were only down by an improved 4 per cent as a result of strong demand and greater recycling of winnings.

Numis analysts say football results would have been more favourable in the final quarter, with all the "big four" English premier teams stumbling and a higher percentage of draws.

"We believe sports results were more favourable in the fourth quarter after a difficult summer and we expect a relatively positive update," they added. "The recent poor weather is likely to have weighed heavily, however.

"We estimate the number of horse races in the UK in December fell by circa 5 per cent, in part due to the weather, and favourites did relatively well.

"This year will also have got off to a poor start with recent poor weather wreaking havoc with the sports calendar. Football results, however, have been more favourable."

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Last month, William Hill said it would be paying out "hundreds of thousands of pounds" on almost 30,000 bets on a white Christmas.

It was also stung in autumn by the prolonged survival of reality TV stars John and Edward Grimes (Jedward), who were slated by judges on ITV's The X-Factor but kept in the competition by the public.

William Hill paid out 60,000 alone when the pair saw off crooner Rikki Loney.