Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Share activity in Scottish institutions is livening-up

Share activity in some of the Scottish based institutions, such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life is becoming more lively following recent YouGov polls that highlighted the chance of a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence is growing by the day. For some time the ‘No’ vote was supposedly leading by at least 15-20 points. This has now collapsed to low single digits and for the first time, in the last couple of days, marginally swung in favour of the ‘Yes’ campaign, suggesting the real possibility of a very close finish. The referendum will take place on Thursday 18th September.

Investors were looking for ‘signs of life’ for Tesco after the recent profit warning and dividend cut reduced the valuation of the food retailer but the share price continues to languish at levels not seen for many years.

In the quarterly shuffle it appears that mid-cappers Direct Line Insurance Group and Dixons Carphone are likely to be promoted to the FTSE-100. This news is normally a positive and should help to boost the valuations.

Barclays is launching a new way to access bank accounts for its business customers, which identifies individuals through the unique pattern of veins in their fingers. The technology is quite distinct from fingerprint recognition and is yet another way of combating fraud as users become increasingly fed up with multiple passwords and PINs.

It has been a week of big news on the economic front with the main story being the surprise rate cut by the ECB and their commitment to buying bonds to boost the European economy. What was meaningful was that the ECB vote over policy change was not unanimous, implying that the German Bundesbank had been outvoted again. With disparate economic performance in the Eurozone the importance of struggling nations standing up to the Bundesbank is paramount and indications that it will do so are welcome.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Markets stable ahead of possible eruptions

The FTSE 100 broke through the 6,800 mark for the first time since July this week. This may have been partially driven by comments from Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, who insinuated an increased chance of Quantitative Easing from the ECB. In the US, economic data told a story of a reasonably robust economy where the 2nd quarter GDP figures were revised higher from 3.9% to 4.2%.

The Russia/Ukraine conflict escalated further when Russian troops were accused of entering Ukraine with tanks and heavy weaponry. Russia continued to deny any involvement, despite the evidence being seemingly indisputable! Undeterred by such significant geopolitical concern, most markets fell by less than 1% in response.

The Insurance company RSA, who have offices in Horsham, have been given a boost by analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch this week, who upgraded the stock from a ‘neutral’ to a ‘buy’ recommendation. They believe that new boss Stephen Hester’s cost-cutting measures will have a positive impact on profitability and cite RSA’s strong balance sheet and slight discount to the sector as further advantages.

Aviation companies such as discount airline Easyjet will be watching events concerning Icelandic volcano Bardarbungo intently as they hope flight paths will not be affected. Recent eruptions have caused the Icelandic Met Office to raise its aviation warning level to red, sending Easyjet shares 1.33% lower on fears over flight cancellations.

The woes of the British supermarkets continued this week, as Tesco issued an unscheduled trading update, cutting its interim dividend by a massive 75% as well as its 2015 profit target. Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were down also, with investors clearly concerned over the impact of a price war on profit margins. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Doubts over 2014 Interest Rate Rise

The S&P 500 hit a 2 week high this week after weaker than expected retail sales figures pushed back expectations for the first rate hike.  Slowing auto demand suggests disappointing wage growth is to blame.  It’s a similar story closer to home with the Bank of England quarterly inflation report confirming the gap between inflation and salaries is widening. The market now expects the first rate rise in Q1 2015, although Barclays and Deutsche Bank still expect November to be the lift off date.

The battle between Carillion and Balfour Beatty continued this week.  After Balfour rejected a recent merger proposal, Carillion issued a reply to the rejection and brought forward its first half results. Decent results were overshadowed by a statement highlighting the significant cost synergies thought to be achievable by combining the two groups.  It’s now up to Balfour shareholders to persuade its board to come up with a creditable alternative to remaining independent or succumb to Carillion’s advances, creating a major new UK force in support services and construction. However, Balfour have since issued another statement reiterating their rejection of the merger proposal.  Carillion is now faced with the options of a hostile bid or walking away.

G4S, which has its head office in Crawley, released first half results which were better than expected. Underlying pre-tax profit was up 6% and organic revenue growth up 4.1%.  Improvements in both emerging and developed markets were partly offset by a rise in corporate costs.  A 25% increase in cash flow from operations suggests that management are slowly getting to grips with the company.

Centamin Egypt announced its first dividend to investors despite weak production volumes from its Egyptian gold mine.  It maintained full year guidance which suggests the company is confident delivering more output in the second half of the year. There was no update on the on-going court battle in Egypt over its licence to mine, but profit sharing with the Egyptian government is likely to begin in 2016.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Markets Stay Firm on the ‘Hole’

It was a very good week for US data, with the manufacturing PMI and better than expected job numbers, sending the S&P500 to another record close - something it hasn't done since July.  That said all eyes were on Janet Yellen’s announcements following the Jackson Hole symposium where the great and good of the central banking world meet on an annual basis.

HellermannTyton, registered in Crawley, released strong half year results, slightly ahead of expectations. Revenues grew by 9.3% to €292.4m with pre-tax profit rising by 42.1% to €40.9m. Improvements were seen across all regions, but were slightly hampered by currency movements.

The saga between Carillion and Balfour Beatty continued this week with Balfour rejecting the fourth approach.  This led to Carillion announcing they will walk away from the deal.

Quindell, with operations in East Grinstead, found itself under further attack this week responding via the website to more allegations of wrong doing.  Following this they issued seemingly robust half year results that saw revenue more than double to £357.3m, with pre-tax profit standing at £123m. Despite this the shares fell on the day and finished the week 6.3% down.  Clearly investors still have doubts.

The housing market appears to be continuing at full steam with Bovis Homes reporting 3530 homes sold in the first 32 weeks, 41% higher than the same period in 2013. They also sprung a surprise detailing its plans to pay an enhanced dividend of 35p in 2014 and at least 35p in 2015.

D3O, Portslade based makers of advanced orange goo made national press this week with a glowing review of its new wonder-material.  With familiar qualities, D3O is soft when handled slowly but stiffens on impact, making it appropriate for a range of domestic and industrial usage.  A company clearly on the up! 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Little good cheer in another week of geopolitical worries

Despite the current market malaise and worrying geopolitical news, shares in Intertek, the multinational inspection and product testing company with operations in Haywards Heath, were buoyed by upbeat analyst comments in the wake of decent half year results. Intertek has been struggling of late as the company attempts to exit from low margin contracts, whilst facing a slowdown in new orders from the oil and gas industry. Export bans and bad weather have also taken their toll. Having fallen by 18% from the last trading update in May investors reacted positively to news of a potentially better second half.

It wasn’t such a pretty picture for the likes of InterContinental Hotels. The shares were marked lower on their half-year figures that were not expected to result in significant market upgrades. A bias to mid-market brands like Holiday Inn has helped the company outperform the industry in tough times. The hotel group has also seen good growth exposure to China and the Asia Pacific region, with an attractive pipeline of new rooms.

Staying with the fallers, Royal Mail shares reached their lowest level since its initial public offering. Some analysts now believe Royal Mail will miss its 2015 margin guidance, coming under increasing, albeit well-flagged, competitive pressures by rival TNT Post UK.

The newly merged consumer electronic group, Dixons Carphone, created from the £3.8bn. tie-up of the high-street phone retailer and PC World owner succumbed to wider market weakness and closed lower on its stock market debut as a newly merged company. 

In a week of trade war talk, military escalation in Russia / Ukraine and new tensions in Iraq it is not surprising that holding gold is gaining appeal once again. The flight to safety was also evident in the bond markets, with the yield on 10-year US Treasuries testing its lowest level since May.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Pets at Home, Taylor Wimpey, Rightmove, J Sainsbury, Tesco, IAG and US jobs data

There was some good cheer from a few companies, which have operations in the Sussex region. Pets at Home was a climber after posting a better than expected increase in sales for the first quarter. The housebuilder, Taylor Wimpey, was also favoured on news that it will boost its 2015 special dividend to a £250m payout. Rightmove followed its lead by raising its interim dividend by 2p to 13p.

Following on from Tesco’s woes J Sainsbury found itself on the wrong side of an analyst’s report, unfortunately in this instance from its own house broker. A downgrade by a house broker usually has more weight with investors, as they generally tend to be more positive about their clients’ prospects. In Sainsbury’s case Morgan Stanley’s retail experts were unsettled by the recent changes at rival Tesco and believe Sainsbury’s control over its destiny has weakened.

British Airways owner IAG has moved into profit for the first half of the year after an improved performance from its Spanish airline, Iberia. Group passenger numbers increased to 35 million from 29 million in the first half of 2013. Iberia’s restructuring continues to have a positive impact on the group and 16 new aeroplanes have been ordered for the Spanish airline.

More broadly world markets were on the back foot during most of last week as concerns about the stability of Portugal’s banking system weighed as did worries about Russia, Gaza and the Argentine debt default. Elsewhere the US added 209,000 jobs in July, adding to optimism that the country’s economy is roaring once more. The biggest job gains were in professional business services and manufacturing jobs. Some economists had been expecting even better data but nonetheless this was a decent enough number and certainly welcomed in a week of worrying geopolitical news.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

GlaxoSmithKline, Tesco and update on Britain's economy

Earnings news at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), unsettled investors and the share price dropped to levels not seen in over a year. Having earlier told the market to expect an increase of as much as 8% the company warned its earnings are more likely to be flat this year. Like many other global companies, Britain’s biggest drugmaker has been hurt by the strong pound, which was partly responsible for its recent disappointing second quarter results. GSK employs over 97,000 people in over 100 countries and has a sizeable operation in Worthing.

Another global company and large employer in Sussex that came back on the ‘radar screen’ was Tesco. It shares have also fallen to a year low on news of the departure of their chief executive and yet another profit warning. Apparently Tesco’s participation in the year’s supermarket price war has proved ineffective, with the group remaining 6% more expensive than Asda on branded products. The failure of the company’s ‘Build a Better Tesco’ UK strategy 3 years on from its launch was another reason for the CEO’s exit.

Britain’s economy is now bigger than it was at its pre-financial crisis peak, after official data showed gross domestic product increased by 0.8% in the second quarter of the year. It may not always feel like it but our economy is growing faster than those of every other developed country, which has recently been confirmed by the International Monetary Fund, who upgraded their forecast from UK growth to 3.2% this year and 2.7% in 2015, describing the numbers as an ‘upside surprise’. However, the IMF warned in its quarterly World Economic Outlook that the crisis in Ukraine and continued unrest in the Middle East risked creating an oil price spike that could destabilise the global economy.

Back to a bit of local news and good cheer – it was a pleasure supporting the Juice 107.2 Appeal and their ‘Biggest Breakfast’ event. Thank you to all those Sussex coffee shops and restaurants that kindly helped to make the morning a great success.