LONDON MARKET MIDDAY: FTSE Recovers While Sophos, Genus Lead Mid-Caps

LONDON (Alliance News) - London stocks recovered from a shaky start on Thursday to trade in the ...

Alliance News 16 May, 2019 | 12:09PM
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LONDON (Alliance News) - London stocks recovered from a shaky start on Thursday to trade in the green at midday, with the FTSE 100 higher despite falls for Burberry and National Grid.

London's mid-cap index outperformed its large-cap counterpart thanks to substantial gains for both Genus and Sophos.

The FTSE 100 was up 15.22 points, or 0.2%, at 7,312.17 midday Thursday. The index of large-caps had traded as low as 7,265.77 in early dealings.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 was up 99.53 points, or 0.5%, at 19,469.30 at midday. The AIM All-Share was flat at 958.04.

The Cboe UK 100 index was up 0.2% at 12,399.41. The Cboe UK 250 was up 0.4% at 17,513.40, and the Cboe UK Small Companies was up 0.2% at 11,796.28.

In European equities, the CAC 40 in Paris and the DAX 30 in Frankfurt were up 0.3% and 0.7% respectively.

"Although off yesterday's highs, European equities have also moved off their opening lows, as the tentative recovery in risk appetite turns into something more concrete," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

He continued: "How much of the drop was due to 'trade war concerns' is difficult to assess, and a fresh bout of rhetoric from either side could rapidly put equities on the back foot, but stripping out the noise points to the kind of correction that represents a good buying opportunity for investors."

Stocks are on course for a subdued open in New York, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 index both seen flat and the Nasdaq 100 set to shed 0.1%.

Prior to the US market open, there are earnings due from supermarket chain Walmart, which owns the Asda supermarket chain in the UK.

Denting sentiment on Thursday was news that US President Donald Trump had declared a national emergency aimed at protecting US communication networks.

The executive order declares a national economic emergency that empowers the US government to ban the technology and services of "foreign adversaries" deemed to pose "unacceptable risks" to national security - including from cyberespionage and sabotage.

While it does not name specific countries or companies, it follows months of US pressure on Chinese tech giant Huawei. It gives the Commerce Department 150 days to come up with regulations.

Following the move, China urged the US to end its "wrong approach". Huawei responded that the company was willing to engage with the US government and come up with "effective measures to ensure product security".

China figured in the London market on Thursday in another way as well. Burberry was the worst blue-chip performer, down 4.7% as the fashion house missed annual profit expectations.

IG's Beauchamp said: "As a company that is painfully exposed to China, Burberry had already suffered heavily, but today's figures suggest that it is more than its geographical exposure that is causing it problems...a lessening of trade war tensions and a bigger China stimulus programme (more likely after yesterday's poor economic data) could be the rescue plan the firm needs."

For the financial year that ended March 30, the luxury goods retailer posted pretax profit of GBP440.6 million, compared to GBP412.6 million a year ago. Revenue met analysts expectations, coming in broadly flat at GBP2.72 billion from GBP2.73 billion.

However, adjusted operating profit lagged behind market consensus, coming in at GBP438 million, down 6% year-on-year from GBP4667 million. Analysts had anticipated adjusted operating profit of GBP442 million.

National Grid slipped 2.9% after reporting a sharp fall in annual profit, even as the utility faced the threat of nationalisation by a future Labour government in the UK.

For the financial year ended March 31, the gas and electricity utility recorded a 31% drop in pretax profit to GBP1.84 billion from GBP2.66 billion, as revenue slipped 2.1% to GBP14.93 billion from GBP15.25 billion. Operating costs rose 2.6% to GBP12.06 billion from GBP11.75 billion.

The reduction to profitability was also in part due to GBP648 million taken in respect of exceptional items and remeasurements.

Meanwhile, Spirax-Sarco Engineering was up 2.9% after Berenberg initiated the pumps and valves maker with a Buy recommendation.

In the FTSE 250, Genus gained 15% on news of a "strategic porcine collaboration" in China, the world's largest pork market.

Under the collaboration with Beijing Capital Agribusiness, Genus will received upfront and milestone cash payments totalling USD20 million and between USD120 million to USD160 million for the creation of a joint venture.

Sophos shares climbed 12% on a better-than-expected billings outturn for its recently ended financial year, as the cybersecurity software firm swung to a profit.

For the financial year that ended in March, Sophos recorded pretax profit of USD53.6 million, compared with a USD41.0 million loss in financial 2018, on revenue of GBP710.6 million and USD639.0 million, respectively.

Billings for the year fell to USD760.3 million from USD768.6 million, down 1.1% on a reported basis but flat a constant currency. Sophos had expected a modest decline in constant currency billings.

"Having been caught out repeatedly last year with over-optimistic forecasts, a better-than-guided performance in the final quarter goes some way to patching up the group’s damaged credibility," noted Nicholas Hyett, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Full rehabilitation is some way off, but this is the first step on the road," the analyst added.

Just Group sank 7.6% after the life insurer reported a steep fall in first-quarter retirement income sales.

Just Group's retirement income sales in the three months to March 31 decreased 59% to GBP184 million from GBP454 million the year before. Defined Benefit De-Risking sales were almost wiped out, decreasing to GBP26 million from GBP249 million. This came amid a "new regulatory regime" as it shuts its loss-making US operations.

Thomas Cook shares slumped 18% after the travel agent reported a sharply wider interim loss and warned on margin pressure ahead of the summer.

For the six months to March 31, the company reported a sharply widened pretax loss of GBP1.45 billion compared with GBP303 million pretax loss a year prior. This was mainly due to a GBP1.1 billion charge related to the company's 2007 merger with MyTravel.

"As we look ahead to the remainder of the year, it's clear that, notwithstanding our early decision to mitigate our exposure in the 'lates' market by reducing capacity, the continued competitive pressure resulting from consumer uncertainty is putting further pressure on margins," said Chief Executive Peter Fankhauser.

"This, combined with higher fuel and hotel costs, is creating further headwinds to our progress over the remainder of the year," he added.

As a result, underlying earnings before interest and tax in the second half is expected to be behind that achieved in the same period a year ago. For the first half, the company posted an underlying Ebit loss of GBP245 million.

By Lucy Heming; lucyheming@alliancenews.com

Copyright 2019 Alliance News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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Securities Mentioned in Article
Security Name Price Change (%) Morningstar Rating
Genus PLC 2,690.00 -
Just Group PLC 58.75 -
Burberry Group PLC 1,829.50
Sophos Group PLC 424.00 -
National Grid PLC 813.60
Spirax-Sarco Engineering PLC 8,780.00 -
Thomas Cook Group PLC 12.22 -
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