UK stocks held onto early gains at midday Tuesday on positive sentiment after data showed a surge in payrolls in April, the fourth consecutive monthly rise and the biggest rise on record, as companies rushed to hire.

Investors will be watching for more clues on the pace of economic recovery when US retail sales and producer price data are released later today.

At 12pm the FTSE 100 index was up 0.3% to 7,168 points, led by consumer stocks such as Primark owner AB Foods (ABF), fast-food delivery firm Just Eat Takeaway (JET) and DIY retailer Kingfisher (KGF).

COMPANY NEWS

Equipment rental group Ashtead (AHT) posted a return to growth in the fourth quarter with a 23% rise in revenues, taking the annual increase to 3%, well ahead of the market.

Operating earnings rose 95% in the fourth quarter, reducing the full year fall to 3%, showing the resilience of the business in difficult markets. The shares added 2.7% to £52.24.

Housebuilder Bellway (BWY) reported a 51% increase in weekly reservations for the period from the start of February to the start of June and a 20.5% rise in the value of its order book to £1.89 billion.

Due to the strength of demand, the firm now sees its average selling price topping £300,000 for the first time, although completions in the second half will be lower than the first half. The shares dipped 0.4% to £34.66.

Business services firm Capita (CPI) announced it had won a £528 million contract extension with a major European telecoms provider, who it has worked with since 2012.

The contract includes £66 million of revenue for 2022 which qualifies for inclusion in the order book, unlike previous contract wins. The shares gained 0.8% to 39.9p.

AIM ROUND-UP

Online fashion group Boohoo (BOO:AIM) released a trading update for the quarter to the end of May showing 32% growth in revenues and a gross margin of 55%, down 0.6% on last year but consistent with pre-pandemic levels.

The Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton brands are being integrated into the firm’s multi-brand platform, but due to continuing ‘uncertainty’ in some markets there is no change to guidance for the year to next February. The shares added 1.9% to 334.8p.

Holiday firm On the Beach (OTB:AIM) posted a predictably weak set of results for the six months to March, with revenues on a generally accepted accounting principle (GAAP) basis down 79% and gross profits down 51%.

The group decided in early May not to take holiday bookings for departure before 1 September, a move which is looking increasingly prescient given the government’s tinkering with the ‘traffic light’ system for overseas countries. The shares dropped 1.1% to 355p.

Specialty retailer and finance firm Ramsdens (RFX:AIM) reported a 23% fall in revenues for the first half to March, even though there was no substantial impact to year-ago figures from lockdowns.

While jewellery sales were up, pawnbroking income fell as customers repaid their loans during lockdown and foreign currency sales were heavily impacted by travel restrictions. The shares dropped 4.3% to 150.7p.

Specialist engineering firm Pressure Technologies (PRES:AIM) delivered a small rise in sales and moved to an operating profit during the six months to the start of April thanks to a strong order book from the defence industry.

The firm reported improving momentum in the hydrogen storage and refuelling market with Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) placing its first order and another order expected ‘imminently’. Curiously, the shares dropped 8.2% to 89.5p in response.

Identity verification firm GB Group (GBG:AIMreported 9.3% organic revenue growth and 15.6% growth in pre-tax profits for the year to March, beating its recently revised guidance.

Growth was helped by existing customers who saw a surge in usage of their digital channels during lockdown, as well as new client additions. Still, the shares sank 4.2% to 886.3p.

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Issue Date: 15 Jun 2021