UK stocks continue to nudge lower on Thursday after sinking to a five-week low on Wednesday. The benchmark FTSE 100 index slips 11 points, or about 0.2%, to 6,489 in early deals, with a token rebound in the energy sector failing to lift the negative mood. A three-day sell-off wiped 3.5% off the value of the Footsie and sent the index to its lowest level since 4 November, closing Wednesday’s session at 6,500.04.
Supergroup falls 8.9% to 756p on poor interims and the news full-year margins will be hit by the need for markdowns. As foreshadowed in a recent profits warning (31 Oct), underlying pre-tax profits slumped 30% to £12.5 million, though the Superdry brand-owner insists it can still achieve downgraded full-year profits guidance of between £60 million-to-£65 million.
Whitbread slips 1.2% to £45.16 despite reporting a 6% increase in group like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks to 27 November, led by an 8.5% rise in like-for-like sales at Premier Inn. Costa and the restaurants division are slightly behind forecasts with like-for-likes growth of 5.2% and 1.6% respectively, but chief executive Andy Harrison says it is confident of delivering full year results in line with expectations. Long-standing hotels director Patrick Dempsey will leave the company in February and will be replaced by Whitbread Restaurants head Paul Flaum.
Going the other way is online supermarket Ocado (OCDO), its shares rallying 8.1p to 342.1p on a short, in-line fourth quarter trading update. Sales grew a creditable 14.9% to £311.4 million over the 16 weeks to 30 November, good going in an increasingly challenging grocery market, though Ocado's average order size continues to fall.
Oil services play Wood Group (WG.) leads the energy sector rally, rising 3.1% to 580p, as it confirms 2014 numbers will hit expectations despite the precipitous fall in oil prices and announces a five year $750 million contract with BP (BP.). Clearly the market was expecting far worse but the company gives little guidance on 2015 beyond pointing to its 'relative resilience' - this resilience is likely to be tested due to the group's exposure to US shale where activity is expected to wind down significantly.
Shares in the wider oil and gas sector are in demand as investors hunt for bargains following the recent sell-off, Petrofac (PFC) is up 1.5% to 727.5p, BP gains 1.6% to 406.1p and Afren (AFR) is 4% higher at 38p.
Drug manufacturer and supplier Quantum Pharma (QP.:AIM) improves 1.5% to 101.5p as the £125 million cap starts trading on AIM.