UK online supermarket and technology group Ocado today reported a ballooning annual pretax loss and a 27% fall in core earnings.

This was mainly due to a fire which destroyed its high-tech flagship warehouse in Andover, in southern England.  

Ocado has transformed itself over the last two years from a domestic grocery delivery firm to a provider of state-of-the-art online retail technology.

It has secured partnerships with Kroger in the US, Casino in France and most recently Aeon in Japan. 

Those deals have helped push its shares 31% higher in the last year, giving it an £8.6 billion stock market valuation.

This is well above those of traditional British supermarket groups such as Sainsbury's, which is worth £4.4 billion and Marks & Spencer at £3.5 billion, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. 

Its shares rose again today in London, even though Ocado said its loss before tax widened to £214.5m in the year to December 1, 2019 compared to £44.4m in 2017-18. 

The loss reflected exceptional charges of £94.1m relating to the write-down of the Andover site. 

Ocado made earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of £43.3m, versus a re-stated £59.5m for 2017-18. 

That outcome, which also reflected accounting changes and the costs of share schemes, was broadly in line with analysts' consensus forecast. 

The losses and drop in core earnings were despite a 9% increase in group revenue to £1.76 billion.

"We are pleased to report results which show strong momentum in the business," chief executive Tim Steiner said. 

"Although statutory results reflected a combination of factors, including the impact of the Andover fire, the underlying performance of Ocado Retail and the successful growth of Ocado Solutions were very encouraging," the CEO added. 

The Ocado Retail division is now a joint venture between Ocado Group and M&S. 

Their deal, completed in August, signalled the end of Ocado's supply contract with upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose in September 2020 and the start of M&S's first grocery home delivery service. 

For the 2019-2020 year Ocado forecast retail revenue growth of 10-15% and invoiced international technology fees growth of at least 40%. 

It forecast EBITDA from retail above its revenue growth. However, EBITDA from UK solutions & logistics and from international solutions was forecast to decline. 

Before today's update analysts' average forecast for 2019-20 EBITDA was £33m.