Childrenswear-to-baby goods retailer Mothercare (MTC) surged 8% to 315.25p on a soothing fourth quarter update. Flat UK like-for-like sales may have been uninspiring, yet the result was better-than-expected. Mothercare's thriving international business delivered double digit growth and chief executive officer (CEO) Simon Calver reassured the market the £257.3 million cap is on track to hit taxable profit forecasts for the year to March.
While the Watford-based retailer's turnaround is progressing with 56 loss-making UK stores closed last year, certain analysts remain bearish on the stock. Panmure Gordon, which expects the UK business will lose money for the next three years, has a 222p target and 'sell' rating on Mothercare. Highlighting competitive pressures from supermarkets, high street healthcare stores and online retailers, Espirito Santo said to 'sell' and values the stock at just 145p.
Sector peer WH Smith (SMWH) continued its strong run, rising 3.7% to 772.5p after the stationer swanned in with solid half-year figures to February. Unveiling her final set of results before handing over the reins to Steve Clarke this summer, CEO Kate Swann announced a 5% increase in profit before tax to £69 million in spite of a 5% like-for-like sales decline. Earnings were up 11% to 44.2p with the help of ongoing share buybacks while investors were treated to a 13% half-year dividend hike to 9.4p. Delivered in the face of fragile consumer confidence, these robust numbers reflected the books and magazines retailer's familiar formula of cutting costs while making improvements to the sales mix.
In the personal goods sector, consumer products play PZ Cussons (PZC) put on 4p at 391p following an encouraging trading update. Despite challenging conditions in most markets, the Imperial Leather maker and St Tropez beauty brand owner is delivering growth in all three divisions.
Yesterday we debated the merits of recruitment companies trading on very high valuations (click here). Today we get trading updates from two UK-quoted players. Hays (HAS) shows that the UK jobs market is flat with no quarterly growth in net fee income from its domestic coverage. Yet investors liked news that operating profit will be at the top end of market expectations. Stockbroker Investec reckons this outperformance is specific to Hays and not the wider recruitment market. The snippet of good news was enough to push up the shares by 3.8% to 96.9p.
Investors also liked results from Matchtech (MTEC:AIM), which specialises in engineering job placements. The company said half-year net debt was down 27% to £8 million and pre-tax profit up 25% to £4 million. Its shares jumped 2.1% to 349p, helped by news today of contract extensions with Transport for London and Babcock (BAB) and a return to dividend growth.
Less than a month after unveiling impressive full-year figures, high-tech printing kit developer Xaar (XAR) tells investors that trading is going gang busters. A flood of new sales (even from the cash-strapped graphics world) is great news, while pumping operating margins is a clear sign of pricing power. The shares jump 14.5% to 481p. Shares flagged this long-term growth story a year ago at 234p; the stock has more than doubled since.
Steel-to-iron ore producer Evraz (EVR) slumped 11.8% to 185.1p after saying it would not pay a final dividend for 2012. It gave a cautious outlook statement and said capital expenditure would be reduced by 10% this year compared with 2012.
Russia's largest gold producer Polyus Gold (PGIL) dipped 1.3% to 212.25p after quarterly production was slightly below analyst forecasts. Liberum says the shares trade on an unwarranted premium to its peers Randgold Resources (RRS) and Polymetal (POLY).
Emerging markets fund manager Ashmore (ASHM) pleased with this morning's third-quarter update with better-than-expected assets under management (AUM) growth driving a 15% share price surge to 409p. AUM ended the third quarter (31 Mar) at $77.7 billion, up 9.4% on the $71 billion they finished the first half. One of the key themes driving the FTSE 250 group is the growing maturity of the domestic emerging market bond arena where Ashmore is proving apt at winning new mandates. Such local currency denominated AUM rose by 29.5% in the period to end the third quarter at £17.1 billion, as against £13.2 billion at the 31 December half-year point.
The market clearly a bit miffed that the speed of turnaround at high-spec cables specialist Volex (VLX), marking the shares 5.5p lower at 97.75p. But comfort should be taken from the fact that there is nothing to suggest more bad news is about to emerge, as spelled out by Shares earlier this year (click here).
Little IT security buy and build Accumuli (ACM:AIM) says its trading is in line with expectations but the real news is a shiny new payout policy promising a near-4% yield. That grabbed the market's attention, something it has failed to do in the past, the shares rising 5.5% to 12p, valuing the business at just shy of £18 million. After a series of acquisitions and the $10 million sale of its Webscreen arm in February, Accumuli has £7.9 million of net cash. Moving into the integrated Security and Information Event Management route, expect more deals down the line.
Document and workflow management software firm IDOX (IDOX:AIM) is back on the acquisition trail, taking its engineering information management (EIM) story to France via the £2 million buy of Artesys. This was welcomed by the market, egging the shares 5.5p% higher to 51p, given the £177 million cap's great record for value-adding deals. Don't be surprised if more follow. A long time Shares favourite, previously highlighted at 20p (5 May '11) and again last May (31 May '12) at 35.5p.
Heavy capital expenditure in the first half of 2012 helped Northbridge Industrial Services (NBI:AIM) deliver a record profit before tax of £3.5 million in the second half. The stock gained 1.9% to 327.7p in response.
Housebuilder Mar City (MAR: AIM) leapt a massive 98.6% to 3.6p after winning a £10.9 million contract – roughly the same as its market cap – to build 137 new homes in the West Midlands. It also raised £1.7 through placing shares at nearly twice last night's share price; and published full-year results that showed a move into profit.
Drug discovery company Summit (SUMM: AIM) shrank 8.6% to 4p after its net losses almost doubled to £4.2 million in the year to February. During the period the company completed Phase I trials of a Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy therapy and initiated a first-stage clinical study of a treatment for C. difficile infections.