The world's biggest advertising agency WPP (WPP) spells out just how ugly a year 2017 was with chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell calling the 12 months ‘not a pretty year.’

This downbeat assessment comes alongside full year results that show pre-tax profit of £2.11bn, up 11.6% on 2016, or 7.7% in constant currency.

WPP shares slump 14% in early trade to £12.03, heading the FTSE 100 loser board.

ELECTRONICS ENGINEER BUYOUT

Another British technology engineer looks destined to leave the stock market after management of Laird (LRD) agreed a £1bn takeover by private equity firm Advent International.

The UK electronics designer and manufacturer, which makes those shark fin antennae for BMW and others, is recommending that shareholders accept a 200p per share all cash offer.

Laird also unveils 2017 full year results, although those numbers clearly take a back seat in light of the takeover offer.

That’s a 73% premium to last night’s 115.9p close, sparking a share price surge to 202.4p on Thursday, possibly implying a small possibility that a rival buyer could yet emerge. Laird, one of Shares running Great Ideas at 118.7p, last saw its shares trade this high before its damaging profit warning and cash crunch back in October 2016.

Retailer Carpetright (CPR), which issued a profits warning on 18 January, today warns again that the bleak trading trend ‘remains negative’. That implies ongoing pressure on like-for-like sales and the market reacts badly, the share price slumping 23% in early trade on Thursday to 60p.

The floorings chain’s stock topped 250p a year ago.

HOMES UNDER THE HAMMER

UK housebuilder Bovis Homes (BVS) has seen a sharp fall in profits after a year in which it had to fend off two takeover bids and was forced to redress poor quality homes.

2017 pre-tax profits declined 26% to £114m, thanks in part to exceptional items amounting to £10.3m. Yet investors take heart that things were not worse, nudging the share price 2% higher at £10.73.

Staying in the sector, annual house price growth slowed to 2.2% in February, according to the Nationwide building society. The rate was lower than January's annual rate of 3.2%.

Tesco’s (TSCO) £4bn takeover of wholesaler Booker (BOK) was overwhelmingly backed by shareholders of both companies on Wednesday, clearing the final hurdles to the creation of a new powerhouse in Britain’s £200bn-a-year food market.

Investor adviser PIRC has told shareholders in Melrose Industries (MRO) to oppose its £7bn bid for engineering group GKN (GKN), putting it at odds with two other proxy voting firms.

BUSY YEAR FOR MERLIN ATTRACTIONS

London Eye-owner Merlin Entertainments (MERL) saw its collection of attractions pull in 66m visitors in 2017, up 3.5%. That gets investors chasing the stock nearly 10% higher to 372.6p.

This news comes alongside pleasing pre-tax profits up 4.8% to £271m, although revenues were hit by adverse weather conditions.

British aerospace and defence electronics group Cobham (COB) slightly beat profit expectations for 2017 and was sticks to its 2018 outlook. This is despite caution over ongoing risks and challenges.

But that proves good enough for investors to swoop on the stock, the share price soaring 18.5% to 134.45p.

PROFITS HIKE DOES THE JOB

British recruiting company Robert Walters (RWA) reports a rough 44% jump in full year pre-tax profit, as overseas growth and its outsourcing business protected the firm against Brexit uncertainty, which has challenged the UK’s recruiting market.

Shares in Robert Walters nudge close on 2% higher in early trade on Thursday to 680p.

Going ex-dividend today (or in other words, investors will lose the right to the next shareholder payout) are several big hitting companies, including Barclays (BARC), housebuilder Berkeley (BKG), EasyJet (EZJ), mining group Rio Tinto (RIO) and RSA (RSA), the insurance firm.

That knocks around 8.5 points off the FTSE 100 according to Reuters’ calculations. The UK’s blue-chip index is trading off by around 18 points in early deals at 7,213.82.

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Issue Date: 01 Mar 2018