Thursday May 6 2010
Independent stockbroker Numis (NUM.L) reported a 6.14 million pound ($9.31 million) first half pre-tax profit after benefiting from a clutch of initial public offerings. Numis was mandated to list High Osmond’s Horizon Acquisition HZN.L vehicle and also whiteboard maker Promethean’s PRW.L 400 million pound flotation. The stockbroker avoided making direct investments after writedowns on investments made during the boom years saw it record a 6.35 million pound loss for the same period in 2009. Chief executive Oliver Hemsley said: “We have had a reasonably good downturn. We are in reasonably good shape.”
Like-for-like sales at pub group JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) declined by 0.8 percent in the 13 weeks to April 25. Although total sales including new openings rose 3.6 percent, the pub group said it was more cautious on the outlook for 2011. JD Wetherspoon warned that higher taxes and interest charges coupled with the risk of weaker consumer spending will see it scaling down its expansion plans, with 45 pubs to be opened this financial year rather than the 50 it announced in January’s trading update.
Graham Beale, chief executive of Nationwide Building Society and chair of the Building Society Association, claimed at the sector’s annual conference that the structure of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme places the mutual sector at a disadvantage. The amount institutions pay into the FSCS is dependent on the size of their deposit base, with building societies generally holding more retail funding than banks and therefore paying more into the fund which covers recent bank failures. Beale said: “It is not right that the prudent pay for the mistakes of the imprudent.”
Software group Sage (SGE.L) reported first-half results marginally ahead of expectations but offered little indication of an immediate upturn. Pre-tax profits for the six months to March 31 increased by 15 percent to 159.6 million pounds due to heavy cost-cutting, with turnover from subscriptions offsetting declines in new sales. Organic revenue declined by two percent despite Sage attracting 127,000 new customers in the period. Chief executive Paul Walker, who is stepping down after 16 years, said a market recovery would see pent-up demand materialise.
Steelmaker Corus’ chief executive Kirby Adams has responded to criticism of his management style by unions after becoming embroiled in a long-running dispute with the Community steel union general secretary Michael Leahy over the decision to partly close its Teesside factory. Adams said: “I am a straight shooter, I don’t sugarcoat and I might irritate some people. If this is what some people might call ‘adversarial’ then it seems to me that this could be a compliment.” Adams said Corus has not given up its effort to find a buyer for the plant and is in contact with “a few businesses that have made serious inquiries” about a deal for the site.
Financial markets appear to be betting on a Conservative victory in the UK general election on Thursday, despite the fact that opinion polls still suggest a hung parliament. Investors have been switching into gilts, with yields on ten-year UK government bonds hitting their lowest level since December 2009 following four consecutive days of falls. It is thought that investors view Britain as a safe haven from the economic woes weighing on the eurozone economy, amid a growing view that the Tories would win a strong mandate to cut the UK’s 163 billion pound deficit.
New forecasts published on Wednesday by the European Commission suggest that the UK’s budget deficit will this year be larger than that of Greece, while growth will fail to meet Treasury expectations. The Commission said that the UK’s deficit would this year hit 12 percent of gross domestic product, higher than any other country in the European Union. Greece’s deficit is expected to reach 9.3 percent, compared to an EU average of 7.2 percent. In 2011 the EC predicts that the UK deficit will be 11 percent, the second highest in the EU behind Ireland.
MOODY’S OUTLOOK ON BP CHANGES TO NEGATIVE OVER OIL SPILL
Ratings agency Moody’s has revised the outlook for BP’s (BP.L) credit to negative following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The energy company also faces the prospect that Moody’s could change its view of the company for the first time in more than a decade. Moody’s said that strong operating results and cash flow would cushion the impact of the disaster on the company, but warned that it was “too early to exclude scenarios leading to downward pressure on [BP’s] Aa1 rating”.
M&S FINANCE DIRECTOR QUITS
Ian Dyson stood down as finance director at retailer Marks and Spencer (MKS.L) on Wednesday. Dyson, who will become chief executive of pubs group Punch Taverns PUB.L, made the announcement within 48 hours of the arrival of new M&S chief executive Marc Bolland. M&S is thought to be unlikely to ask Dyson to work a six-month notice period, and the retailer now finds itself searching for a new finance director as well as a new chairman, with Sir Stuart Rose set to depart the latter position next year.
TNK-BP TO SET UP FIRST IRAQ VENTURE
TNK-BP, the Russian oil venture half-owned by energy giant BP (BP.L), announced on Wednesday that it has agreed to establish a joint venture with the Iraq Oil Company for Oil Investments to identify potential projects in Iraq. In 2009, TNK-BP’s Russian shareholders argued that BP was blocking the company’s international expansion, but the Iraq deal follows a move into Venezuela last year, when BP agreed with the shareholders to set up new mechanisms for joint control. However, TNK-BP chief-executive-in-waiting Maxim Barsky said that the company’s main focus will remain on development in Russia. ($1=.6592 Pound)