The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Wool­worths Ltd., Aus­tralia's largest su­per­mar­ket chain, ap­pointed Brad Ban­ducci as its new chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer to turn around the com­pany's for­tunes af­ter post­ing its first loss since list­ing in 1993. Ban­ducci, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Wool­worths's food group since Fe­bru­ary last year, will re­place Grant O'Brien who said in June he'd quit af­ter less than four years at the helm, the Syd­ney-based com­pany said in a reg­u­la­tory state­ment Fri­day. Un­der O'Brien, Wool­worths made the now dis­as­trous foray into the hard­ware mar­ket, while su­per­mar­ket sales growth be­gan to lag its main com­peti­tor.

The com­pany re­ported a loss for the six months ended Dec. 31 of A$972.7 mil­lion ($703 mil­lion) as it rec­og­nized a A$3 bil­lion im­pair­ment charge re­lated to its home­im­prove­ment ven­ture Masters. That com­pared to a profit of A$1.28 bil­lion a year ear­lier. Ban­ducci is charged with rein­vig­o­rat­ing the pri­mary gro­cery busi­ness, which is be­ing un­der­mined by Aldi dis­count stores and Wes­farm­ers Ltd.-owned Coles. His ap­point­ment rounds off a global search of more than six months as the com­pany seeks to ar­rest de­clines in profit and sales, sell money-los­ing as­sets and re­gain in­vestor con­fi­dence. Wool­worths shares ini­tially fell on the news though ral­lied later in the day to close 2.1 per­cent higher at A$22.34. The shares have lost 35 per­cent over the past 12 months, al­most dou­ble the de­cline for the bench­mark S&P/ASX 200 In­dex.

"To go for an in­ter­nal can­di­date who was in charge of the su­per­mar­kets divi­sion that hasn't per­formed up to scratch is a lit­tle sur­pris­ing," Daniel Mueller, a Syd­ney-based an­a­lyst at Morn­ingstar Inc., said by phone. "It's now about ex­e­cut­ing on the turn­around strat­egy and get­ting more com­pet­i­tive on price. Then per­cep­tions will change and cus­tomers will even­tu­al­ity come back." Ban­ducci was the only in­ter­nal ex­ec­u­tive out of the three can­di­dates short­listed for the CEO role, Chair­man Gor­don Cairns said in a me­dia call. He was se­lected given his retail ex­pe­ri­ence and per­for­mance while lead­ing Wool­worths's liquor busi­ness, Cairns said. Wool­worths same-store food and liquor sales dropped 0.6 per­cent in the three months ended Dec. 31 and haven't beaten Coles for at least 24 con­sec­u­tive quar­ters, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by Bloomberg from com­pany fil­ings.

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