UK stocks drifted in early trade as Europe reported record daily levels of coronavirus infections and US markets sold off ahead of Thursday’s final debate between President Trump and Democratic party challenger Joe Biden.
The FTSE 100 index of leading stocks gave up 9 points or 0.2% to 5,875 points with weakness in energy and financial stocks outweighing gains in retail and consumer stocks.
The pound was unchanged at $1.294 while Brent crude oil futures firmed to $42.50 per barrel and gold held steady just above the $1,900 level.
Like for like sales for the three months to September rose 13.3% to £3.5 billion while nine-month like-for-like sales rose 12.4% to £10.4 billion.
The firm saw high demand for its Lysol, Dettol and Finish brands, and has improved its supply chain to make sure products are on the shelves when and where customers want them. It also nudged up its full year revenue growth target to low double digits against high single digits previously.
Home builder Bellway (BWY) posted gloomy results for the year to end-July with revenues down 30.7% to £2.25 billion and operating profits down a thumping 52.3% to £321.7 million as housing completions dropped over 30% and it took a non-exceptional charge of £18.9 million to extend site durations and beef up health and safety requirements.
On a positive note, given its net cash position of £1.4 billion the firm decided to reinstate dividends with a final payment of 50p per share, a 50% reduction on last year, while holding out the promise of further payments ‘commensurate with the group’s recovery in earnings’. This was enough to see the shares trade up 0.3% to £26.33 against a weak market backdrop.
Third quarter sales growth of 7.5% was comfortably ahead of forecasts thanks to both retail and professional demand, meaning operating earnings are now likely to reach between £28 million and £30 million against previous guidance of ‘at least £23 million’.
The firm increased its market share and its average gross profit per customer, allowing it to reinstate its 5.4p interim dividend which will be paid together with the full year dividend of 11.2p per share, making for an 11% increase over the previous year.
The firm is also paying a 7.6p per share special dividend, down from last year’s 16p but still a good return for shareholders. Despite the positive update, Softcat shares slid 8.3% to £11.38.
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