LONDON MARKET CLOSE: Brexit Relief Pushes Stocks Higher For The Week

LONDON (Alliance News) - Stock prices in London closed higher on Friday and for the week after UK ...

Alliance News 15 March, 2019 | 5:31PM
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LONDON (Alliance News) - Stock prices in London closed higher on Friday and for the week after UK legislators approved a move to extend the timeline for the stuttering Brexit process following a week of crunch votes which roiled markets.

The FTSE 100 index closed up 0.6% at 7,228.28 Friday. The mid-cap FTSE 250 index closed up 1.1% at 19,491.03. The AIM All-Share index closed 0.5% higher at 917.52.

For the week, the blue chips closed 1.7% higher. The mid-cap index finished up 2.3% and the All-Share 1.1% higher.

The Cboe UK 100 closed up 0.6% at 12,276.95 the Cboe UK 250 up 1.1% at 17,479.40, and the Cboe UK Small Companies up 0.3% at 11,162.81.

The pound was quoted at USD1.3297 at the London close, up slightly from USD1.3277 late Thursday.

London markets were higher on Friday following the decision by Parliament late Thursday to push for an extension to the Brexit process, capping a series of votes this week which the current withdrawal deal rejected and a clear vote against the possibility of a "no deal" exit.

Late Thursday, UK lawmakers vote 413 to 202 in favour of seeking an extension to Article 50 from the EU. Article 50 is the treaty clause that UK invoked to leave the EU on March 29.

"To be sure, the full spectrum of possible endings to the Brexit process remains in play: from a disorderly exit to a complete reversal," UBS analyst Yianos Kontopoulos said. "Yet, repeated determined demonstrations to avoid no deal by the majority of MPs, and their growing confidence and ability to pull the process in a softer direction, are likely shifting the distribution of the possible outcomes in a more benign direction."

Following the extension vote, UK Prime Minister Theresa May moved to put her much-maligned withdrawal deal in front of MPs for a third time. The deal already suffered a defeat in January with a 230 vote margin and another on Tuesday with a smaller but still hefty 149 vote margin.

CityIndex Senior Market Analyst Fiona Cincotta said: "Theresa May opted for one more vote despite being rejected by a vast majority twice because there are signs that Eurosceptic within the Tory party are shifting towards accepting the current deal rather than facing Britain staying in Europe for much longer."

Towards the top of the FTSE 100, Berkeley Group was up 1.9% after the housebuilder reiterated its guidance over the next few years amid a stable trading environment.

Previously, Berkeley had guided for pretax profit for the two years to April 30 of at least GBP1.58 billion, with guidance for the five years ending April 2021 of at least GBP3.38 billion.

At its interim results in December, however, the company upgraded its pretax profit forecast for the current year "by more than 5%" with the split in profit across the year likely to be similar to previous years. Its guidance for the next two years, however, was unchanged.

On Friday, Berkeley confirmed its trading environment had remained "consistent with that experienced over the last two years". This "stability", the firm added, allowed it to "reiterate the updated pretax profit guidance".

The company added it had completed early its GBP139.7 million cash return. Berkeley has since committed to returning another GBP139.7 million to shareholders by the end of September, thus far having returned GBP5.2 million through buybacks.

TUI was also 1.9% higher as it extended gains made on Thursday following an upbeat broker note.

On Thursday, the Anglo-German travel firm closed 3.7% higher after Morgan Stanley upgraded its rating to Overweight from Equal Weight with a 1,250 pence price target.

The US bank argued that TUI had an "attractive valuation" following a sharp fall in its share price. Although Morgan Stanley cut its profit expectations, it also believed TUI could benefit from a softer or delayed Brexit.

Grocery chain Wm Morrison Supermarkets ended at the bottom of the blue chips, down 1.7%, after Deutsche Bank cut its price target to 235p from its original 255p. The German bank, however, retained its Hold recommendation.

In the mid-cap FTSE 250, restaurant franchise operator Restaurant Group was topping the index, up 10% after like-for-like sales in 2019 were strong, despite reporting 2018 profit halved.

In 2018, pretax profit more than halved to GBP13.9 million from GBP28.2 million a year prior, despite revenue rising 1.0% to GBP686.0 million from GBP679.3 million the year prior. Like-for-like sales, however, were down 2.0%.

Profit performance at the Frankie & Benny's and Chiquito chain owner was hurt by GBP39.2 million exceptional charge due to an onerous lease review and a GBP14.8 million charge related to its GBP357 million acquisition of Wagamama in December.

Adjusted pretax profit - excluding one-off costs - was 8.1% lower at GBP53.2 million from GBP57.8 million the year prior.

In the ten weeks to March 10, Restaurant Group's like-for-like sales are up 2.8%, in line with management expectations.

Edison Investment Research analyst Paul Hickman explained the results "show a decline but not a disaster."

"The end of 2018 could just mark a crucial inflexion point for the group, where it now has the critical mass to address the structural weakness of its traditional Leisure division while hopefully preserving the momentum of growth, debt control and a dividend stream," Hickman continued.

"Wagamama is already in strong growth, which, together with its strategic potential for Restaurant Group, increases the justification for the high price paid for it," Hickman added. "Its third quarter like-for-like sales to February grew 9.1% making 9.7% in its year to date."

Pub operator Ei Group was 7.2% higher after it announced a debt reduction programme and GBP35 million share buyback following the completion of the sale of an initial tranche of 348 properties.

Ei will use the initial GBP333 million in net proceeds from the sale for these purposes. Ei is still to receive a further GBP11.4 million gross funds from an outstanding sale of a further 22 properties.

Pension firm Just Group closed at the bottom of the mid-cap index, down 4.2%, after Deutsche Bank cuts its price target to 85p from 100p but held its Hold recommendation.

This followed the bank being concerned about the leverage level at Just Group after an as-expected GBP400 million capital raise including a less-expected "heavy inclusion" of new debt.

Mid cap peer sandwich maker Greencore was also down 3.6%, after Berenberg cut its rating on the stock to Hold from Buy. This was after it deemed 2019 as likely to be a "challenging year for UK food manufacturers" amid costs rises and more cautious spending patterns.

Meanwhile, former FTSE 250 constituent Interserve had shed over a third of its share value earlier on Friday before its share were suspended shortly after midday.

The troubled construction and support services firm prepared to enter administration after the long-running battle to turnaround the heavily-indebted firm failed as investors rejected a key share placing.

In late February, Interserve proposed a GBP435.2 million fully underwritten share placing and open offer. The proceeds were to be raised as part of a deleveraging plan which the firm described as "urgently" needed to provide sufficient liquidity to service its short-term obligations.

On Friday, however, 59% of its shareholders voted against the plan to issue shares. Only 41% approved. Following the defeat of the share placing, Interserve confirmed its shares had been suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange.

Interserve responded by announcing it would pursue an "alternative deleveraging transaction" which would include the firm entering administration and selling itself. Interserve warned shareholders they "are not expected to receive any value for their shareholding" as a result.

In mainland Europe, in Paris the CAC 40 equities index ended up 1.0%, while the DAX 30 in Frankfurt ended up 0.7%.

The euro was quoted at USD1.1318, higher compared to USD1.1301 late Thursday.

In European economic news, inflation accelerated in February to 1.5% on the year from a downwardly revised 1.4% in January. The January print for the consumer price index had initially been reported at 1.5%.

Core inflation, however, slowed to a year-on-year growth of 1.0% in February from an upwardly-revised 1.1% in January. The January figure was initially reported at 1.0%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones and S&P 500 were trading 0.7% higher, whilst the Nasdaq was up 1.0%.

In the US, industrial production rebounded less than expected. In February, output grew 0.1% on the month prior. This was a sharp improvement on the upwardly-revised 0.4% decline reported for January, after being initially reported at a 0.6% decline.

Despite this, the February print was noticeable behind the 0.4% forecast by economists.

In better news, the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index strengthened more than expected to 97.8 points in preliminary figures for March. Economists had expected it to improve to 95.3 points from the 93.8 points reported in February.

Gold was quoted at USD1,302.87 an ounce at the London equities close, higher versus USD,295.47 Thursday.

Brent oil was quoted at USD66.98 a barrel at the London equities close, lower than USD67.32 at the close Thursday.

Next week opens with the FTSE index changes taking effect. This will see insurance firm Phoenix Group Holdings and online takeaway portal Just Eat joining the FTSE 100, at the expense of gambling firm GVC and engineering firm John Wood Group.

The FTSE 250 will welcome stockbroker AJ Bell, construction firm Kier Group and pet products retailer Pets At Home Group. Meanwhile, Asia-focused investment firm Edinburgh Dragon Trust, bike and automotive parts retailer Halfords Group and fashion firm Superdry all leave the mid caps.

In a quiet economic calendar on Monday, Japan releases industrial production data at 0430 GMT. Meanwhile, Eurozone trade balance figures are issued at 1000 GMT. In the US, the NAHB Housing Market Index releases data at 1400 GMT.

Later in the week, UK earnings growth and unemployment data is released at 0930 GMT on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the UK releases retail prices, CPI and PPI figures at 0930 GMT. Later on Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve makes it most recently interest rate decision.

Thursday will see UK retail sales data issued at 0930 GMT and the Bank of England interest rate move declared at 1200 GMT. At 1230 GMT on Thursday, the US delivers its jobless figures.

On Friday, a string of PMI figures will be released. These include from France, Germany, the Eurozone and the US at 0815 GMT, 0830 GMT, 0900 GMT and 1345 GMT respectively.

In UK corporate events on Monday, full year results are due from document handling firm Restore, aviation services firm GAMA, ventilation firm Volution Group and marketing firm S4 Capital. Half year figures are also anticipated from Japan-focused investment firm Baillie Gifford Shin Nippon.

By Ahren Lester;

Copyright 2019 Alliance News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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Securities Mentioned in Article
Security Name Price Change (%) Morningstar Rating
Edinburgh Dragon Ord 378.06 779
Wood Group (John) PLC 416.70 -
Just Group PLC 57.05 -
Halfords Group PLC 235.60 -
TUI AG 740.20 -
Pets at Home Group PLC 175.60 -
Superdry PLC 487.20 -
AJ Bell PLC 421.00 -
Kier Group PLC 301.60 -
Phoenix Group Holdings PLC 661.60 -
Morrison (Wm) Supermarkets PLC 197.25
Restaurant Group (The) PLC 124.70 -
EI Group PLC 213.60 -
Greencore Group PLC 211.10 -
GVC Holdings PLC 580.80 -
Berkeley Group Holdings (The) PLC 3,508.00 -
Just Eat PLC 617.20 -
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