The secure printing specialist announced yesterday yet another profit warning, with an operating profit for 2023 projected at around £20 million instead of the £40 million initially expected.
This downward revision is due to a low volume of orders in the banknote business, which accounts for three quarters of sales. In addition, the passport business is struggling without impressing.
The promises made by Clive Watcher, the managing director who arrived in the midst of the pandemic, have fallen flat: the ambitions to grow "by 35% to 45%" in the group's main activities will not be achieved this year...
This is just one of many difficulties for De La Rue, which is facing complicated bank refinancing in a context of rising interest rates, as well as a recurring problem of client portfolio concentration - which led to a quarrel with its auditor.
Both of these factors are jeopardizing solvency. This is without even mentioning the problem of a now plethoric competition, and the chronic deficit in the financing of the pension plan. To top it all off, the activist fund Crystal Ambe is campaigning for a fire sale of the group, arguing against the board's position that the sum of the parts is worth more than the whole - in other words, that the group is worth more dead than alive.
Between 2012 and 2022, turnover declines from £528 million to £375 million. The gross margin is halved, but disposals of unprofitable businesses have more or less sustained operating margins.
Cash generation, on the other hand, has become problematic. The accounting results - positively inflated by the proceeds of asset disposals and depreciation below investments - tend to overestimate the group's real earning power.
In reality, operations have been loss-making for four years. As a result, the group is burning cash and no longer pays a dividend. It also had to carry out an emergency capital increase at the beginning of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, at a share price that was perceived as low at the time, and yet twice as high as where it is languishing today.
At £40 per share, the market capitalization of £80 million represents what De La Rue paid out in dividends in just three consecutive years at the beginning of the decade. This is a measure of the scale of the disaster.
The fact is that the use of cash is declining sharply in all developed economies. To compensate, De La Rue has ventured into exotic markets, and his setbacks in Venezuela - a country where banknote printing is running at full speed but which is not paying its bills - and in South Sudan are a reminder that the exercise is not always a walk in the park.
Some would speculate that the group is an ideal acquisition target. Perhaps, but if that were the case - which seems anything but obvious - there is nothing to prevent a potential buyer from letting it go bankrupt first.
At this rate, it will only be a matter of time.