London’s FTSE 100 was struggling for direction by midday on Tuesday, down a modest 0.01% to 7,050.78 points after UK public borrowing figures came in lower than expected, although the FTSE 250 edged 0.08% higher to 22,502 points.

Government borrowing hit £31.7 billion in April, official data shows, and while this was the second highest amount on record it was lower than the same month last year as parts of the economy reopened.

The Office for Budget Responsibility had predicted borrowing would hit £39 billion in April.

AVEVA’S BIG SECOND HALF RECOVERY

In corporate news, industrial software group Aveva (AVV) jumped 2% to £33.41 despite reporting a fall in annual profit as revenue fell following pandemic-led disruptions in first half of the year, with the firm seeing a big recovery in the second half of its financial year.

For the year ended 31 March 2021, pre-tax profit fell to £34.2 million from £92 million year-on-year, while revenue declined 1.4% to £1.2 billion. The company proposed to raise the final dividend by 1% to 23.5p per share.

But chief executive Peter Herwick said as a result of the firm reacting quickly to the Covid crisis, ‘despite a challenging first half, the second half saw double-digit revenue growth.’

Looking ahead, Aveva said the business environment has ‘improved in most major markets following the disruption caused by Covid-19 in the first half of FY20’ and added that its board is ‘confident in the outlook for AVEVA in FY22.’

Product and service solutions company Electrocomponents (ECM) edged 0.6% higher to £10.47 after it reported a fall in annual profit as lower margins offset a rise in revenue.

For the year ended 31 March 2021 pre-tax profit fell 19.5% to £160.6 million year-on-year, as revenue climbed 2.5% to £2 billion. Gross margin fell 1% to 42.7%, driven by ‘increased freight costs, inventory provisions and regional mix’, while the company also raised its full-year dividend 3.2% to 15.9p per share.

Looking ahead, the company said it had carried ‘strong momentum into the new financial year’ and added that it is ‘excited about the opportunities we see through our Destination 2025 strategic roadmap to drive profitable market share growth and operational efficiencies.’

AVON RUBBER HIKES DIVIDEND, PLANS NAME CHANGE

Defence equipment maker Avon Rubber (AVON) fell 7.2% to £30.32 despite hiking its interim dividend after swinging to a first-half profit amid ‘significant growth’ in its respiratory protection business.

For the half year ended 31 March 2021, pre-tax profit was $5.4 million, up from a loss of $1.8 million year-on-year as revenue increased 41% to $167.9 million. The company raised its interim dividend by 30% to $0.143 a share.

Avon Rubber reported a strong order intake, up 46.5%, with military up 31.3%, first responder up 28.3% and a first-time contribution of $18.4 million from Team Wendy, which was acquired on 2 November 2020.

The firm plans to change its name during the second half of its financial year to Avon Protection, which it said reflects its ‘transformation into a focussed provider of life critical personal protection systems’.

London West End property group Shaftesbury (SHB) edged 3.3% lower to 578.5p as it booked a deeper first-half loss after the pandemic hurt footfall at retail outlets, squeezing rental income.

Pre-tax losses for the six months through March amounted to £338.5 million, compared to year-on-year losses of £287.6 million, and included negative property revaluations of £342.6 million. Rental income fell 19% to £48.9 million amid occupier support, reduced rent collections and increased vacancy.

Shaftesbury declared an interim dividend of 2.4p per share, compared to no payment last year, and said a phased lifting of restrictions is already resulting in a return of confidence and activity.

OTHER NEWS

Sandwiches, salads and sushi maker Greencore (GNC) tumbled 16% to 143.6p on profit-taking after a tasty run and with investors digesting a 19% first half sales plunge to £577.1 million.

Infrastructure and safe transport group Hill & Smith (HILS) edged 2.1% higher to £15.36 as it said it has made a good start to the year with revenue rising 10% in the first fourth months compared to a year earlier.

The company also reported a strong recovery in operating profit in comparison to the same period last year which was impacted by pandemic-related disruption from the middle of March 2020.

Self-storage group Big Yellow (BYG) cheapened 2.4% to £12.82 despite reporting that annual profit jumped owing to higher revaluation gain on investment properties.

For the year ended 31 March 2021, pre-tax profit rose 185% to £265.8 million year-on-year as revenue increased 4.6% to £135.2 million. The gain on revaluation of investment properties was £189,277, up from £23,193 a year earlier.

Average net achieved rent per square feet was up 1.1% year-on-year, with like-for-like closing store occupancy rising to 87.4% from 80.7%. The total dividend was 34p per share, up 0.6% from last year.

Equipment and plant hire company Speedy Hire (SDY) fell 5% to 77p as it booked a 21% drop in annual profit but resumed its dividend, citing a strong recovery in the second half.

Pre-tax profit for the year through March fell to £12.3 million, down from £20.7 million year-on-year, as revenue slid 11% to £363.6 million. Speedy Hire nevertheless declared full-year dividend to 1.4p per share, up from 0.7p year-on-year. Hire revenue in the fourth quarter had risen 4% on a like-for-like basis.

Infant merchandise retailer Mothercare (MTC) was marked down 2.1% to 16.1p as it said it expected to report a small underlying operating profit for the full year, even as its sales slumped 40%.

Net worldwide franchisee retail sales had dropped to £326 million, down from £542 million year-on-year. Mothercare said the fall reflected the impact of Covid-19 in various global markets, which had been offset by cost cutting.

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Issue Date: 25 May 2021