April 17, 2019 / 7:08 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-Bunzl shares drop to six-month low after North America slowdown

* Q1 total revenue up just 2.5 percent at constant currencies

* North America underlying growth approximately 1 percent

* Shares drop as much as 14 percent, hit six-month low (Recasts, adds details from quarter, outlook, analyst comments)

By Pushkala Aripaka and Yadarisa Shabong

April 17 (Reuters) - Shares of Bunzl slumped 14 percent after the business supplies distributor warned of slowing growth, particularly in its biggest market North America, where it is selling less to customers in the grocery and retail sectors.

The FTSE 100 member’s stock was on Wednesday on track for its biggest daily decline in 10 years after total revenue rose just 2.5 percent at constant currency rates in the first quarter, compared with 14 percent growth a year earlier.

Bunzl has been struggling to squeeze growth from its grocery and retail business in North America, which accounts for about 60 percent of total revenue, as sales volume comes under pressure and it lacks major price increases to compensate.

It said it had achieved slower underlying growth of approximately 1 percent in North America.

Bunzl supplies a wide range of items from disposable tableware to packaging supplies, latex gloves and cleaning chemicals to customers in sectors including government, healthcare and food service.

“It is a highly rare event to see a disappointing Bunzl trading update and is therefore likely to lead to some share price weakness,” Barclays analyst Paul Checketts said in a note.

Checketts noted Bunzl’s organic or self-generated revenue growth of 1.5 percent was the slowest in at least nine quarters, and had missed his expectation of 2 percent.

“The customers (in North America) themselves aren’t growing and, after a strong period of Bunzl winning new outsourcing work, this period has no big new wins,” Checketts added.

Bunzl, which has made more than 150 acquisitions since 2004, also said it had recently acquired Netherlands-based packaging supplies company Coolpack for an undisclosed sum.

It said its pipeline of potential acquisitions for the year was “promising”.

Bunzl shares, which had hit a near record 2,551 pence on Tuesday, were down 8.6 percent at 2,331p by 0942 GMT, having touched a six-month low of 2,190p. (Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru Editing by Georgina Prodhan and David Holmes)

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