UK stocks open in modest positive territory in early trade Tuesday, with declines in the energy sector offsetting some well-received results from blue chips Legal & General (LGEN), Imperial Tobacco (IMT) and Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF). The benchmark FTSE 100 index nudges 14 points higher to 6,501. Progress is largely capped by oil majors as the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) falls to a three-year low as Saudi Arabia lowers prices for crude exports to the US.
Among the leading Footsie risers is Imperial Tobacco as it reveals a 7% core brands volume increase in the 12 months to end-September. That drives the shares 3% higher to £27.47. Pre-tax profit jumps 25% to £1.5 billion. Chief executive officer Alison Cooper says Imperial’s purchase of new brands from US tobacco firm Lorrillard is expected to complete in 2015, marking its entry into the US market.*
Food and fashion conglomerate Associated British Foods adds 26p (1%) at £26.97 as better-than-expected full-year results please, led by a 'magnificent year' for discount fashion chain Primark. Operating profits at the budget fashion chain jumped 30%, boosted by a 1.2 million square foot selling space expansion. Grocery, agriculture and ingredients also managed to offset lower sugar prices.
Alternative asset manager Man Group (EMG) is up 3.4% to 127.6p as performance data indicates its flagship AHL semi-automated quant fund had a strong three days and is now trading above its high water mark, the level at which it can start paying Man Group extra fees. Many had written off the trade-bot when its performance plunged in a disastrous 2013 but the fund has now recovered and is up roughly 25% year-to-date.
Spirit Pub (SPRT) edges a fraction higher to 107.75p as its gets a firm buyout offer from British brew company Greene King (GNK). The £773.6 million takeover bid comes in response to pressure from rival suitor C&C (CCR).
Electronic components supplier TT Electronics (TTG) collapses 31% to 112p as the company issues a profits warning for both this year and next. TT is pursuing a root and branch strategic rethink, including shifting some manufacturing from Germany to lower cost Romania, but cost benefits have been cut from £6 million a year to £3.5 million. Trading is proving tough, while forex also weighs on operating performance.
Business and health software supplier Advanced Computer Software (ASW) delivers typically robust half-year results showing a 9% revenue increase and acquisition-boosted pre-tax profits of £7.8 million, soaring 63%. The company also flags profit margin improvements and says there's more to come. Surprisingly, shares in the running Shares Play of the Week fail to reflect the underlying strength of performance, staying flat at 107p.
*DISCLOSURE: The author of the paragraph on Imperial Tobacco, William Cain, owns shares in the other UK-listed tobacco company British American Tobacco (BATS).