UK stocks regain their poise on Thursday after a quiet session overnight in the US and Asia and early gains in Europe. The FTSE 100 rises 18 points or 0.25% to 7,216 with most sectors in the black. Leading the charge are aerospace, healthcare, industrials, oil services and software.
In corporate news, insurance giant Aviva (AV.) delivers what by its own admission is a mixed half year earnings report. While general insurance was strong, the life and asset management businesses both suffered due to ‘challenging market conditions’.
One surprise in the report is the news that the company is ‘examining strategic options’ for its sub-scale Asian business ‘to enhance value for shareholders’, which sounds like it could be up for sale soon. Shares tick up 0.3% to 383p.
Smaller insurance rival Hastings (HSTG) reports a small increase in first half premiums but profits have taken a dive even before adjusting for the impact of the Ogden rate change (for more on the change see here).
Gross written premiums were up 3% to £499m but this seems to have been based on a 3% price increase which is well below the rate of claims inflation. Operating profits were down 25% to £68m before the Ogden rate change and down 34% after the change. Shares drop 9.5% to 173p, a new low for the year.
Shares in house builder Bellway (BWY) fall 2% £28.21 after it issues a trading update for the year to 31 July pointing to an 8% increase in housing revenue, thanks to a 5.7% increase in completions, and pre-tax profits in line with market estimates of £664m.
According to the company there is ‘strong underlying demand for good quality new homes’ thanks to low interest rates and Help to Buy and its forward order book is the same level as it was a year ago.
Property developer Derwent London (DLN) reports a 2% increase in first half net asset value compared with the end of last year and a 7% increase in net rental income compared with a year ago thanks to an increase in new lettings.
It also announces the sale of a building in Clerkenwell for £100m, representing a 4.8% premium to its most recent valuation in December 2018, and a 10% increase in the interim dividend to 21p. Shares add 1.3% to £29.27.
Shares in real estate investment trust Tritax Big Box REIT (BBOX) are flat at 147p after it reports a slight dip in first half net asset value after taking into account acquisition costs. Tritax invests in large logistics warehouses (‘big boxes’) throughout the UK.
Coca-Cola HBC (CCH) delivers a ‘solid’ first half trading update with revenues up 3.8% to £3.35bn thanks to a 2.2% increase in volumes and a small increase in prices. However operating margins were lower at 8.6% compared with 9.4% a year ago, sending the shares down 2.3% to £27.65.
Shares in theatre operator Cineworld (CINE) dip 4.8% to a 12-month low of 234p after it reports ‘softer’ half-year earnings due to a lack of blockbuster releases compared with the same period last year.
Revenues were down 11% to $2.15bn while pre-tax profits were down 12% to $140m. The company talked up its second half with the release last month of the new Spiderman film and still to come ‘Frozen 2’ and the latest film in the Star Wars franchise.
Revenues were down 3% to €1.7bn on a slowdown in global vehicle output while continued investment in the business, including a new production facility in Morocco, dented operating profits by 14%.
Stocks going ex-dividend today include AstraZeneca (AZN), Barclays (BARC), BT (BT.), Diageo (DGE), Direct Line (DLG), Fevertree (FEVR), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), IMI (IMI), Informa (INF), Lloyds (LLOY), Man Group (EMG), PZ Cussons (PZC), Rentokil (RTO), Rio Tinto (RIO) and Unilever (ULVR).