UK stocks labour to modest gains in early trade Thursday as investors scale back on risk ahead of central bank meetings in the UK and Europe. The blue-chip FTSE 100 index edges barely 7.5 points higher to 6,724, with several Footsie company shares weak as they go ex-dividend, including London Stock Exchange (LSE), Severn Trent (SVT), Next (NXT), Land Securities (LAND) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
There's also the results of FTSE's quarterly index reshuffle, with engineer IMI (IMI) and oil services group Petrofac (PFC) due to be kicked out of the top flight index, to be replaced by housebuilders Barratt Developments (BDEV) and Taylor Wimpey (TW.).
Travel tour operator TUI Travel (TUI) impressed after meeting expectations with a 4% rise in annual profits. The company also paints a positive outlook for the winter and upcoming summer season ahead of its planned merger with parent group TUI AG, the shares among the Footsie leaders, up 3.8% at 445.1p.
Adding to the positive travel and holidays sector run is Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair (RYA), which surges 8.6% to €9.47 after revealing that passenger numbers in November jumped 22% to 6.35 million. This is all the more impressive considering that the airline raised capacity by 13% compared to the same period last year.
Budget airline Easyjet (EZJ) is flying high after saying that passenger numbers increased by 3.1% to 4,386,296 in November against the same month in 2013. That news pushes the shares more than 2% higher to £17.02.
Recruiter and outsourcer Robert Walters (RWA) surges 11% to 303p as it says full year performance is likely to be ‘materially ahead’ of market expectations. But chief executive Robert Walters cautions on the longer term outlook, citing ‘volatility in global market confidence’.
Outsourcer Serco (SRP) sheds another 6%, falling to 160p, taking losses in the last six months to more than 50%. The fall comes on the same day as a lukewarm 'hold' reiteration from analysts at Liberum. They have a price target of 170p.
Online betting exchange Betfair (BET) rises 3.4% to £14.14 after it reports a 25% rise in revenues and a 112% increase in profit before tax for the six months ended 31 October, with strong growth across its sports, gaming and US divisions and a £15.9 million revenue boost from the World Cup. The group plans to return £200 million to shareholders and expects full year earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to be between £97 million and £103 million in 2015, up from £91.1 million in 2014.
Luxury bag maker Mulberry (MUL:AIM) is marked down 16.25p (2.1%) to 763.75p as it swings into the red for the first half. The poor results are in line with the English luxury brand's latest profits warning, though there are signs new products are beginning to revitalise sales.
Kurdistan oil producer Gulf Keystone Petroleum (GKP) falls 4% to 73p as Deutsche Bank turns neutral on the stock - dialling back its previous positive stance in response to the stock's recent outperformance. Gulf Keystone has benefitted from progress in getting paid for its exports from the semi-autonomous region of Iraq.
US-based oil and gas play Nighthawk Energy (HAWK:AIM) is up 1.1% to 6.06p as it announces it has hedged 364,940 barrels of its oil at an average price of $74.70 per barrel out to November 2017.
Pubs group Greene King (GNK) adds 0.07% to 761p after reporting a 3.3% increase in revenues to £614.9 million and a profit before tax of £82.6 million, down 3.5% on last year due to lower like-for-like sales growth and the disposal of 275 pubs to Hawthorn Leisure. Chief executive Rooney Anand says customers remain cautious about spending on eating and drinking out.
Strong trading and typically robust cash flow boosts set-top box maker Amino Technologies (AMO:AIM), which also flags a minimum 10% hike in dividends for the next two years. The shares rise 4.2% to 122p, with a cash pile worth 40p per share.
Handsets hardware minnow Belgravium Technologies (BVM:AIM) slumps as a major contract moves to the right and full year results miss expectations. The shares crash 17% to 4.25p.
Packaging company DS Smith (SMDS) climbs 5.8% to 305p on a 45% jump in first half pre-tax profit to £123 million. A 5% fall in revenues to £1.97 billion, driven by the strength of the pound, is offset by a reduction in operating costs. The group says its outlook remains positive and increases its interim dividend per share by 16% to 3.7p.
Photobooth operator Photo-Me (PHTM) is down 2.2% to 142.8p despite returning to top-line growth in the first half, driven by a 5% expansion in photobooth numbers and its small but growing self-service laundry business. Underlying pre-tax profit is up 10% to £25.3 million, but revenues are 7.8% lower due to the continuing decline in minilab sales. Interim dividends rise 30% to 2.3p per share.
Online ad firm Marimedia (MARI:AIM) confirms it is on track to meet expectations for 2014 and indicates the acquisition of mobile advertising specialist Taptica (which completed in October) is already having an impact on its revenues from this platform. The shares are up 3% to 137p in response to today's positive update.
Online gaming products creator Gaming Realms (GMR:AIM) is flat at 39.5p as a 421% rises in revenues to £4.6 million is offset by marketing spend of £3.6 million and costs relating to the acquisition of Blueburra and building its new gaming platform. The group posts a loss before tax of £3.1 million for the six months ended 30 September.
Medical device-maker Consort Medical (CSRT) rises 2.8% to 731.5p despite pre-tax profits shrinking 11.9% to £7.3 million in the six months to November. The outlook, however, is strong with an acquisition expected to contribute strongly to full-year earnings.
An encouraging update from Air Partner (AIP) sees shares in the £26.8 million cap jumping 4.4% to 275p as the group remains confident of delivering on full year targets for the year ending on 31 January 2015.