Clothing giant Next (NXT) emerges as an early Christmas winner, clipping ahead 10% to £60.65 as it reports bumper sales for the fourth quarter to Christmas Eve 'significantly ahead' of expectations, triggering full-year profit upgrades. It will pay a 50p special dividend in February. Total brand sales were up 11.9%, driven by the thriving Next Directory online business, where sales surged 21% ahead. Pre-tax profits for the year to 25 January of between £684 million and £700 million are now expected, up from previous £650 million to £680 million guidance.


The positive news from Next gives investors more confidence in the retail sector following worries triggered by Debenhams' (DEB) profit warning on 31 December. Argos-to-Homebase group Home Retail (HOME) rises 1.8% to 194.7p; Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF) advances 1.8% to £25.32; and Marks & Spencer (MKS) nudges ahead 1.2% to 432.5p.


There's a continuing trend of director changes, as we noted yesterday, with several new announcements. Drycleaner Johnson Service (JSG) says executive chairman John Talbot will leave in April. A non-executive chairman is being sought while the textile division boss Chris Sander will step up to become group chief executive. Johnson rises 2.4% to 54.5p; read our latest view on the stock here. Ultrasis (ULT:AIM) executive director John Martin leaves the software group in June; its shares are flat at 1.05p. Support services minnow Green Compliance (GCO:AIM), up 4% to 1.3p, has promoted its chief financial officer Richard Hodgson to chief operating officer, albeit still doing the finance role as well.


Emergency power group APR Energy (APR) secures a 70 megawatt contract renewal in Botswana. The shares have been weak since November as chief executive officer John Campion continues to sell shares at a rapid pace to fund a divorce settlement, although today's contract news helps to push them back up 1.3% to 962.75p.


Arrow Global (ARW) ticks up 0.2% to 263p on a reassuring trading update. Arrow’s business model is to buy bad debts typically at 10p in the pound, mainly from financial institutions, and then use superior information sources to better identify the delinquent borrower before handing over recovery to debt collection agencies. The company uses the update to confirm a strong pipeline of bad debt acquisition targets going into 2014.


Fastnet Oil & Gas (FAST:AIM) rises 1% to 13.88p after partner Kosmos Energy secured a rig to drill the Foum Assaka Block. Northland Capital analyst Andrew McGeary says the news 'reflects further rapid progress for Fastnet (which) has been a pioneer of the recent Moroccan exploration.'


UAE-based private healthcare provider NMC Health (NMC) slips 2.3% to 438.9p despite a reassuring trading update, adding that it will hit net debt, capital expenditure and cash flow targets for the year to 31 December 2013.

Issue Date: 03 Jan 2014