With a barrage of 'sell' ratings on valuation grounds, it would only take a small bit of bad news to stop Whitbread's (WTB) stellar rally in its tracks. The leisure giant has been in a rising trend for the past 12 months as consumers flock to its Premier Inn hotels and Costa coffee outlets. A fourth quarter (Q4) trading statement shows the business to be resilient with 2.7% like-for-like sales growth in the 11 weeks to 14 February, a period that included adverse weather conditions but a result below market forecasts.
Although the shares have retreated 3.3% to £24.77 in response to the statement, there are positive elements. Whitbread had flagged in October 2012 that growth was moderating, yet the Q4 update shows a pick-up at both the hotel and restaurant operations.
Property group St. Modwen (SMP) has fallen 9.8% to 250.5p on £49 million fund raising efforts. The company has tapped the market for money to fund its slice of the New Covent Garden Market’s £2 billion development. Analysts at Espirito Santo describe the move as opportunistic given that the first capital call at New Covent Garden is not expected until early 2015. St.Modwen has placed the new stock at 245p.
Shares in FTSE 250 star Sports Direct (SPD) slumped 6.5% to 402.6p after founder Mike Ashley sold 25 million shares at 400p to Goldman Sachs. Sports Direct was the toast of the Square Mile last week after posting stellar figures for the third quarter to 27 January. Sales and gross profits surged more than 20% ahead to £589.5 million and £244.8 million respectively, with the £2.6 billion cap highlighting strong online sales growth following the recent relaunch of its website.
Irish construction and materials group CRH (CRH) posted full year-profits slightly ahead of expectations thanks to an ongoing US recovery as well as marginal improvements in their European operations, particularly their materials division. But it was not enough to sustain the recent rally in the FTSE 100 constituent, today dipping 0.3% to £14.17.
Robert Walters (RWA) continues to lag its recruitment peers, not helped by today reporting a significant drop in full-year profits. Yet the company is upbeat about its prospects, as we discuss in detail here.
Mwana Africa (MWA:AIM) nudged ahead 0.4% to 5.8p after revealing that its Zani-Kodo project in the Democratic Republic of Congo now contains 2.6 million ounces of gold. Although this represents a 30% increase on the previous resource statement, it is less than the 3 million ounces targeted by the management.
Security products specialist Westminster (WSG:AIM) retreated 8.1% to 34p after the small cap raised a slug of new cash at a large discount to the share price. It has raised just under £1.5 million through placing new shares at 30p.
Shares in sausage skin maker Devro (DVO) fell by 3.5% to 342.6p despite hitting full-year forecasts. Consensus is expected to drift downwards as analysts digest the fact that raw material cost inflation and investment in senior management are likely to constrain growth in underlying margins in 2013. 'Collagen cost inflation will continue to be an issue in FY13,' writes Investec Securities analyst Nicola Mallard, 'although further price increases are planned to help offset this. Commissioning issues are expected to be less, but we do expect continued investment in people and infrastructure. To accommodate this step change in investment, we are reducing our pre-tax profit forecast by £1.4m to £45.1m'. The broker is sticking with its 'buy' recommendation and has increased its price target from 355p to 387p 'on generally rising sector multiples' and 'broadly unchanged' estimates for 2014 and 2015.
China's largest orange plantation owner Asian Citrus (ACHL: AIM) softened 5.5% to 30p. Sentiment toward the stock soured on half-year results to December showing sales down 14.5% to RMB 892 million and a 22.7% drop in profits to RMB 249.5 million reflecting unstable weather patterns and wage inflation.
Heading in the opposite direction was copiously cash-generative foods, ingredients and flavours supplier Kerry (KYGA). Shares in the £5.8 billion cap advanced 0.7% to €41.58 on the back of well-received full-year figures showing sales 10.3% ahead at €5.8 billion, profits up 10.8% at €555 million and double-digit earnings per share growth.
'They are coming', proclaims Panmure Gordon analyst George O'Connor as he writes about the impending 'Hadoop' revolution. This is an open-source software platform that facilitates the processing of large amounts of data across clusters of servers. WANdisco (WAND:AIM) has launched an alliance partner programme that seeks to help companies thrive in the 'Big Data' market which is expected to be worth more than $50 billion by 2017. The news wasn't enough to move the share price, stuck at 815p, although O'Connor reckons it won't be the last we hear of the subject this week.
Irish support services group DCC (DCC) is headed for the FTSE 250. The company is to scrap its Irish stock market listing and concentrate on its London presence. It will seek admission to the FTSE UK Index Series with a view to qualifying for the FTSE 250 at the quarterly reshuffle in June. The London-listed shares dipped 0.4% to €26.69 on the news.
Industrials firm GKN (GKN), which makes chassis and axles for car manufacturers and airframes for Airbus (EAD:PA) and Boeing (BA:NYSE) jets, jumped 3.2% to 260.3p after reporting a 19% increase in 2012 pre-tax profits to £497 million. This was ahead of expectations but the group warns of weakness in the European automotive market.
News that oil explorer New World Oil & Gas (NEW:AIM) has upped its stake in its Belize acreage to 75% failed to repair investor sentiment with the shares dipping a further 2.9% to 4.12p. The small cap has been in a downwards trend since its hotly-anticipated Blue Crest well off the coast of the Central American state failed to yield a discovery earlier this month.
Kazakhstan-based Jupiter Energy (JPRL:AIM) fell 4.8% to 40p on an operational update despite reporting encouraging results from early testing on its J-58 well. Stockbroker Fox Davies says: 'This update underlines the fact that until testing is completed, and a potentially productive horizon fully tested, that a discovery may just remain a technical success.'
Despite delays to the opening of a new hospital, full-year results helped to fuel the rally in Middle East-focused healthcare company NMC Health (NMC), advancing a further 0.4% to 270p. It has declared a maiden dividend after reporting 36.5% rise in pre-tax profit for 2012. Its Brightpoint maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi is expected to open in the second quarter of 2013, way behind its original second-half 2012 target.