Following more record highs in US markets overnight, the FTSE 100 index gained 36 points or 0.5% to 7,646 in early trade led by Banks, Mining and Property stocks. However earnings reports were mixed with food producers generally positive but financial and commercial services less upbeat.
The firm approved $2.25bn worth of new spending in the fourth quarter but Jacques insisted that it would remain disciplined in its capital allocation, favouring value over volume.
Sports-betting and gaming group GVC Holdings (GVC) guided full year profit expectations towards the top end of the increased guidance range set out in its third quarter results. Total net gaming revenues for the full year were up 2% with the fall in in-store revenues less severe than feared. However, the shares fell 1.3% to 921p.
Credit-scoring firm Experian (EXPN) reported a 9% increase in third-quarter turnover with a 7% improvement in organic sales thanks to continued demand for its products and services in North America and a marked upturn in sales in South America.
However, demand was less strong in the UK and Ireland, where organic sales fell 12%, and in Asian markets where sales fell by 13%. Shares were 0.7% lower at £26.02.
The insurance sector traded lower following a profit warning from Hastings (HSTG), which fell 7% to 172p. The firm cited higher claims costs in the fourth quarter, with increases in repair and third-party credit hire costs, higher winter frequencies than the prior year and a small number of larger bodily injury losses for the cut to earnings and dividends.
Branded foods group Premier Foods (PFD) delivered an upbeat trading statement for the third quarter ended 28 December with UK sales up 3.6%, marking the tenth consecutive quarterly increase in revenues.
Seven of the firm’s eight brands outperformed the market with Mr Kipling in exceedingly good form contributing a 10% increase in sales last quarter. Premier shares added 0.2% to 43.05p.
Food producer Cranswick (CWK) raised guidance for pre-tax profits for the year to 31 March thanks to ‘exceptionally strong’ export sales. As it commented in its interim results in November, the incidence of African Swine Fever in Asian markets has created a significant opportunity for UK pork producers. Shares gained 7.5% to £36.50.
In contrast collagen-based sausage casing-maker Devro (DVO) lowered its full year operating profit forecast due to lower than anticipated second-half volumes, a weaker country mix and the strength of Sterling. Shares fell 4.4% to 167p.
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