Cook shares fell as low as 19.6p on the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday (December 4) before recovering slightly, but were still down from 30.9p when trading opened at the start of the week.
It comes after Cook issued an unexpected second profit warning on November 27, two days before revealing a £163 million post-tax loss for the 2017-18 financial year, despite increasing revenue by £500 million to £9.6 billion.
Cook’s chief executive Peter Fankhauser has blamed the summer heatwave for the company’s poor sales in the key “lates” booking period when “demand reduced sharply”, with the UK tour operator performance being “particularly disappointing”.
But investors have become more focused on the size of Cook’s net debt, which increased to £389 million and was higher than previously forecast by the company. This compares with a net debt of only £40 million this time last year.
The announcement brought back memories of Cook’s near collapse seven years ago when it struggled to deal with net debt of nearly £900 million and its shares slipped to lows of only 9p (November 2011).
Analysts from German bank Berenberg said Cook’s business model was “structurally challenged” as it advised clients to sell the tour operator’s shares.
“Thomas Cook Group continues to face stiff competition from online travel agents and low-cost airlines,” said Berenberg in a note to clients. “We do not yet see any end to the significant competitive pressures that undermine current performance.”
Nick Wyatt, head of tourism at analytics firm GlobalData, added Cook’s poor results should prompt a “rethink” of its pricing policies. “Travellers believe they can get a great holiday for a cheap price if they wait long enough – and they can,” he added.
“Heavy discounting in recent years has altered consumer expectations on the cost and quality of holidays, which has skewed value perception.”
Cook has come under attack from “short-sellers”, investors who aim to profit from the fall in the value of a company’s shares, while the cost to insure the company’s debt from default has also shot up in the past week.
The company’s shares were valued at £1.20 in November 2017, but had fallen to 24.1p when trading closed on Tuesday (December 4).