UK stocks inched higher in early trade on Thursday after posting strong gains yesterday, with the FTSE 100 index up 6 points to 6,848 points.
The tilt towards ‘value’ names such as retailers and materials stocks continued, while banks, the biggest risers on Wednesday, handed back some of their gains.
Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index hit a record high overnight on the Democratic win in the Senate run-off race in Georgia, despite the storming of the Capitol building in Washington by supporters of the outgoing president.
The pound was steady at $1.36, while oil prices continued their ascent with Brent futures rising to $54.50 per barrel.
Sales for the quarter to 2 Jan were up a record 8.6% on a like-for-like basis excluding fuel, with grocery sales up 7.4% thanks to a 128% surge in online revenues. Pleasingly, general merchandise sales were also robust, posting a 6% gain helped by an 8.4% increase in revenues at Argos.
As a result, the firm raised its guidance for underlying full year operating profits to ‘at least £330 million’ excluding the benefit of business rates relief, compared with a consensus estimate range of between £270 million and £285 million.
Discount store chain B&M European Value Retail (BME) posted a positive trading update for the third quarter to 26 December with UK revenues up 26.6% overall and 21.1% on a like-for-like basis thanks to its designation as an ‘essential retailer’.
The firm also raised its full year guidance for earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to between £540 million and £570 million after the repayment of £80 million of business rates relief, and announced a 20p per share special dividend to be paid later this month. Despite the positive news, shares drifted off 0.9% to 525p.
Shares in fashion brand Joules Group (JOUL) were flat at 181p after the company reported a 0.3% increase in total sales for the seven weeks to 3 January, with a 58% fall in in-store sales due to enforced shop closures offset by a 66% increase in online sales.
The firm projected that lost sales could amount to between £14 million and £18 million if the current lockdown extends to 1 April, the impact of which would be partially offset by better online sales and already-implemented cost reductions.
The firm also said it would cut flights between the UK and Ireland to ‘few, if any’ from 21 January but that the reduction would not have a material impact on expected earnings ‘since many of these flights would have been loss-making’.
Gaming and sports-betting firm Entain (ENT), currently fending off a takeover approach from US joint venture partner MGM Resorts, launched its own offer for Swedish online betting firm Enlabs.
The SEK 2.8 billion or £250 million offer represents a small premium to the current market value of Enlabs, one of the largest operators in the Baltic markets, and has already received acceptances from shareholders representing over 42% of the company’s capital.
Separately, Entain increased its guidance for full year earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to between £825 million and £845 million, an increase of between 6% and 8% compared with its most recent forecast. Shares added 0.6% to £14.68.
Marine services firm James Fisher (FSJ) lifted its forecast for full year operating profits to the higher end of its November guidance range of £35 million to £40 million after stronger than expected revenues in the quarter to December.
The company also said it would take a one-off, non-cash charge of between £75 million and £85 million to write down the value of 'goodwill, fixed assets and certain accounts receivable’ in its Marine Support division. Shares added 1.1% to 918p.
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