London shares open on a subdued note in early trade on Thursday as investors await the latest EU-wide interest rate decision from the European Central Bank at midday.

While little is anticipated to have changed in terms of guidance market watchers are hopeful that the language used will be of an increasingly optimistic hue, with economic risk moving a little more to the downside.

But this filters through to a slow start for UK stocks with the leading FTSE 100 index starting the day off by around 22 points at 6,820.45. Midcaps and AIM are marginally more positive, but only marginally.

It’s a relatively busy Thursday for company trading updates with latest news coming from wealth manager St James's Place (STJ), construction firm Kier (KIE), cyber security supplier NCC (NCC), publisher Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT), although many retail investors will find 9.5% share price jump at popular growth pick Fevertree Drinks (FEVR:AIM) difficult to look beyond.

INVESTORS TOAST FEVERTREE GROWTH

The £3bn fancy tonics producer says it expects to report a surge in revenue for 2018 thanks to the scorching summer temperatures last year and bumper Christmas demand drove sales of its flavoured tonic water and other mixers.

That sends the share price up 248p to £28.46, although that is still a long way shy of the record £39.34 hit in September last year.

Fevertree continues its US expansion, which is again exciting investors.

Elsewhere, revenue at DMGT, which owns the Daily Mail newspaper, said total sales dropped 2%, while sales excluding fluctuations in currency rates and closed businesses rose 2%.

That rather a mixed picture saw circulation drop 3%, but advertising revenue rise 6% in the last three months of 2018.

Shares in the FTSE 100 publisher nudge 2% higher to 589.5p, valuing the business at more than £2bn.

Wealth manager St James's Place saw inflows slow in the final months of the year and saw challenging market conditions squeeze funds under management.

But investors are happy to concentrate on record net inflows of £2.6bn in the final quarter, nudging the shares more than 1.8% higher to 958.8p, heading the FTSE 100 leader board in early trade on Thursday.

Mobile giant Vodafone (VOD) is the blue-chip's biggest loser, down 2.7% to 145.18p. Worries over its dividend, which you can read about here, may have something to do with the fall.

Vodafone is due to issue an update on Friday.

MOVIE WATCHERS DRAG ON EATERIES GROUP

Restaurant Group (RTN) said sales from its mature venues (been open at least a year) slipped 2% in 2018 as lower numbers of cinema goers in December takes its toll. That's something investors will be watching closely.

The owner of the Frankie & Benny's, Chiquito, Brunning & Price, and now Wagamama, restaurants in the UK has lots of outlets in retail parks close to cinemas. Shares in the company slide 1.6% on Thursday to 152.5p.

Cyber security firm NCC is the big loser of the day as its shares tumble close on 20% after reporting ‘softer demand’ in parts of its UK backyard.

The company posted 8% revenue growth to £126m for the first six months to 30 November 2018, with a particularly strong performance in the US offset by weaker risk management and governance business from UK customers.

NCC also reports a squeeze on technical staff, which could harm near-term growth if not checked. Adjusted operating profit from continuing operations of £14.8m was ahead of last year’s £13.8m but investors remain spooked, the stock slumping 35p to 149p, wiping nearly £100m off the value of the Manchester-based business.

UNDERLYING COPPER OUTPUT FIRM

Elsewhere, mining giant Anglo American (AAL) reported a 7% increase in total production on a copper equivalent basis for the fourth quarter of 2018. That compares to the same period in 2017, excluding the effect of the stoppage at Minas-Rio.

Shares in the group dip 6p or so to £17.946.

And online gaming provider 888 Holdings (888) has announced that Itai Pazner, previously its chief operating officer, has been appointed as its new chief executive officer. He will replace the standing down Itai Frieberger, in the top job for 14 years and overseeing substantial growth in the business.

That loss of experience may explain why the shares are off more than 2% on Thursday at 164.7p, valuing the business at approximately £600m.


Issue Date: 24 Jan 2019