UK telecoms group BT (BT.A) soars to the top of the FTSE 100 leader board in early trade on Thursday after unveiling a big rise in profits.

Pre-tax profits at BT jumped 24% to £1.34bn in the half year to 30 September despite revenue slipping 2% to £11.6bn. Higher profits were driven by customers opting for more expensive smartphones at mobile network EE and restructuring-related cost savings.

BT has been the subject of speculation regarding its UK national infrastructure network arm Openreach but the company, plus many City analysts, have consistently denied such talk. The shares rally more than 7% in early trade to 257.95p, their highest since the very start of 2018.

But BT’s bumper half year performance fails to alter the negative mood which has once again descends on London markets. At 9.00am the FTSE 100 is down around 26 points at 7,102.22 in spite of strong support from US markets overnight.

OIL FUELS HEFTY PROFITS HIKE AT SHELL

Rising oil prices help industry giant Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) report a near 40% rise in third quarter profits. The group reports net income attributable to shareholders (based on current cost of supplies) was $5.6bn - the highest for four years.

But this is still below the expectations pitched around the $5.76bn mark, which explains why shares in Shell slide 2.4% on Thursday to £25.03.

Mining colossus BHP Billiton (BLT) has unveiled plans to return $10.4bn, or just over £8bn, to shareholders through a combination of off-market buy-backs and a special dividend.

According to BHP, the combination ‘will return significant value to all shareholders, allowing the entire BHP global shareholder base to participate’.

The move is in line with an earlier pledge to hand back proceeds of the sale of its US shale business. BHP shares rise about 2% to £15.948.

GROWTH COSTS GNAW INTO JUST EAT EARNINGS

Food delivery business Just Eat (JE.) has hinted that full year earnings are likely to be at the lower end of forecasts as international expansion and stiff competition bite into costs.

The company, which now has close on 97,000 restaurant partners, announced third quarter results showing better-than-expected revenue growth of 41% to £195.3m, taking the total income haul to £553.7m so far this year.

That news goes down fairly well with investors who bid up the shares by more than 5% to 639.2p, with a 16% jump in its key UK orders going particularly reassuring in the face of the extremely hot summer.

But the stock is still down 27% since July with concerns growing over an increasingly intense competitive landscape, particularly from chief rivals Deliveroo and Uber Eats, and Amazon a potentially big disruptive player on the fringes.

HILTON BAGS NEW TESCO WORK 

Hilton Food (HFG) management confirmed an ‘in line’ performance for the mid-July to date trading period, highlighting new business with Tesco (TSCO) and Waitrose. Early indications suggest that analysts will largely leave current full year 2018 pre-tax profit forecasts of £43.8m as they are for now.

Shares in the FTSE 250 food supplier dip modestly lower to 918p.

No surprises that catastrophe insurer Lancashire’s (LRE) third quarter figures have been significantly impacted by natural disasters in the quarter to 30 September, which had already been flagged.

Yet the stock rallies 2.5% to 607p with the results better than might have been anticipated given damaging hurricanes this year. Loss before tax of $25.3m in the period still means that the company remains profitable to the tune of $49.6m so far this year, plus there’s a $0.20 per share special dividend for investors to cheer.

Embattled floorings seller Carpetright (CPR) issued a trading update for the 26 week period to 27 October that, thankfully for investors, holds no further nasties.

The company is going through a wide-ranging transformation after implementing a restructuring programme and negotiating a debt deal earlier in the year. But like-for-like sales remain under pressure in the UK, prompting the company to slam shut the doors on 67 underperforming stores.

The shares nudge 01.5% up to 19p, valuing the one-time FTSE 250 stock at a little more than £58m today.

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Issue Date: 01 Nov 2018