London’s FTSE 100 softens 45 points to 7,112 on Friday as poor economic news from China and Germany casts a dark cloud over global markets. In mainland Europe, indices are flashing red and Asian shares have taken a beating after Chinese exports saw their biggest fall in three years in February amid the trade war with the US. And German industrial orders fell by their biggest amount in seven months in January. It is understandable why investors have been so worried about the outlook for global growth when you see figures like these.
In corporate news, shares in hard-pressed department store Debenhams (DEB) spark up 37% to 4.2p as retail sector maverick Mike Ashley launches a boardroom coup. Ashley has requested a shareholder meeting and is calling for a complete clear out of the Debenhams board (save for the recently appointed Rachel Osborne).
He also says he is prepared to step down as CEO of Sports Direct International (SPD) in order to take control of the embattled Debenhams, which is ‘disappointed’ that shareholder Sports Direct has taken this action and insists ‘discussions to address our future funding requirements are well advanced’.
Online gaming giant GVC (GVC) cheapens 6.8% to 637.5p as CEO Kenneth Alexander and chairman Lee Feldman sell down their holdings, Alexander offloading £13.7m worth of stock and Feldman dumping the best part of £6m of his personal holding. Alexander insists both remain fully committed to GVC, but investors appear unnerved by his comment that ‘while we continue at GVC we will not reduce our holdings below the current levels’, possibly coded language implying the pair aren’t going to be around that long.
Elsewhere, heating and thermal systems engineer Bodycote (BOY) bounces 3.9% higher to 810p on strong full year results showing a 12% headline pre-tax profit gain to £136.4m. This reflects rapid growth in Bodycote’s specialist technologies business, robust civil aviation sales and ‘an excellent performance’ in emerging markets. Investors are also being treated to a 20p special dividend for 2018, on top of a 9% hike in the full year ordinary dividend to 19p.
Building materials specialist SIG (SHI) skips 12.4p higher to 134.6p after reporting a 25% hike in underlying pre-tax profit to £72.7m for 2018 and a sharp drop in net debt as CEO Meinie Oldersma’s turnaround plan starts to deliver. Notwithstanding certain headwinds, Oldersma insists ‘the margin and cost actions taken in 2018 give us good visibility of further significant progress in the current year’ and investors also sniff a balance sheet strengthening disposal in the offing, SIG having put its Air Handling unit under review.
Plastic products specialist RPC (RPC) reverses 1.3% to 785.4p, despite the board dropping its support for private equity firm Apollo’s 782p offer and endorsing a higher, rival 793p cash offer from Fortune 500 plastic packaging products behemoth Berry. Given that the RPC share price was above the new offer price before the announcement, perhaps investors were hoping for a bit more.
Goals Soccer Centres (GOAL:AIM) is given a red card by investors, the shares marked down 24% to 42.5p on a warning 2018 full year results will be both delayed and ‘materially below expectations’ as the company seeks to resolve ‘certain accounting errors’.