Tuesday, 23 September 2014

More relief than euphoria for UK markets after Scots vote No

The troubled mobile phone store owner Phones4U entered administration after EE joined Vodafone and O2 in cancelling their contracts to supply the embattled high street chain.  Vodafone share price rose after reports emerged that it and EE were looking at buying sections of Phones4U.

ASOS issued their third profit warning in less than a year, sending its share price tumbling.  There was contagion in the sector, with other retailers, including JD Sports & Next firmly down.

Crawley based TUI Travel was of interest as talk of cash returns in the wake of the £5.2bn merger with its German parent sent the tourism business flying to the top of the FTSE 100 leaderboard.  easyJet performed better after announcing that it would also pay back some cash to shareholders. The British airline, now the largest by number of passengers carried, has reached an agreement with Airbus to exercise existing purchase rights over 27 current generation A320 aircraft for delivery between 2015 and 2018. These aircraft are more efficient than the current model used and should lead to cost savings. This will mean easyJet will have a 35% larger fleet by 2019.

Weakness in resources stocks helped to dampen excitement over Scotland's No vote. Companies seeing the majority of the relief rally gains were RBS, Lloyds, Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management, whereas mining companies were hit by further falls in commodities prices and concern of an earlier than expected US interest rate rise.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba priced its shares at $68 in the run up to the largest ever initial public offering (IPO).  Overwhelming demand saw the IPO initially raise $21.8 billion and then sent Alibaba's stock surging 38% in its debut last Friday.

Finally Tesco has lowered its forecast for first-half profit by £250m, its third warning this year, after finding a fault in its accounts, in the latest blow to the reputation of Britain's biggest grocer.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Don’t mention the … vote!

Four new polls released over the weekend continue to paint the picture of a statistical dead heat in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

There are three macro channels through which the referendum and a yes vote are likely to impact investments. A weaker pound, higher bond yields and potentially a higher equity risk premium.  We expect the pound to suffer the majority of the impact.

There are some investment managers who fear that the markets are under discounting the possibility of a yes vote. Certainly the impact to date remains muted but in the current low interest rate world it takes a lot to persuade investors to part with their equities – as we have seen with the US growth scare, Ukrainian crisis and rise of ISIS.  Also notably the pound and gilts bore up better than most expected during 2010’s hung parliament. The message is that markets are more resilient to uncertainty than investors generally might expect.

With all the focus firmly on Scotland, there was little coverage on Mark Carney’s testimony to MP’s last week. Mr Carney struck a more balanced tone than the one he has offered in recent months. He commented that the MPC would hit its target if rates rise by spring and then proceed to rise very slowly. This seems to all but rule out an increase this year, but tips the balance in favour of February in preference to May. Nevertheless, the committee’s options are still fairly open.

In company news, Harrogate-based Engage Mutual has proposed to merge with the Brighton company, Family Investments, in a deal that would create one of the UK’s largest mutuals with more than 2 million customers. The proposed merger remains subject to regulatory approval but could potentially conclude in the first half of 2015.

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.