UK stocks moved slightly higher on Thursday despite ongoing concerns about rising Covid-19 cases across the world.

At 08:40 the FTSE 100 index of leading shares was 0.3% higher at 6,770 points.

In overnight Asian trading the Japanese Nikkei 225 index gained 0.9% while the Chinese SE Composite index lost 0.9%. Brent Crude prices nudged up 0.4% to $53.2 a barrel and Gold prices were 0.2% weaker at $1,842 an ounce.

COMPANY NEWS

Supermarket chain Tesco (TSCO) said UK like-for-like sales grew 8.1% over Christmas leading to growth of 7.6% for the 19-week period to 9 January.

Overall group revenues were 5.6% ahead to £19.9 billion and 7% higher on a like-for-like basis. Tesco Bank revenues dropped 28% as services were impacted by the pandemic.

The company said elevated sales will enable it to offset increased costs related to the pandemic which are now expected to be £85 million higher than communicated in October and will total £810 million. It left guidance unchanged with retail profit to be ‘at least at the same level as in 2019/20.’ The shares lost 0.4% to 241p.

Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF) warned on performance of Primark after estimating the loss of sales caused by temporary store closures would reach £1.05 billion.

The company said it now expected full year sales and adjusted operating profit for Primark to be ’somewhat lower’ than last year.

The update comes as the company reported that revenue in the 16 weeks to 2 January 2021, fell 13% to £4.8 billion year-on-year with Primark sales down 28%.

Its sugar and grocery division saw sales up 6% and 8% respectively, driven by higher prices for British sugar and strong growth in its UK grocery businesses. The shares dropped 1.9% to £21.8.

In a third quarter trading update Premier Inn owner Whitbread (WTB) said total UK accommodation sales dropped 55.2% while occupancy levels were 49.3%.

Premier Inn sales performance was said to be 8.9 percentage points ahead of the market taking market share up 4% to 11.4%. For the five weeks to 31 December UK sales were down 66.4% with occupancy dropping to 31.1%. The shares gained 0.5% to £30.7.

TAYLOR WIMPLY COMPLETIONS PLUNGE

House builder Taylor Wimpey (TW.) said total UK home completions fell by 39% to 9,609 in 2020, due primarily to the impact on production capacity during the second quarter shutdown.

Despite this, the company said it expected to report operating profit in line with market expectations, currently pegged at £293 million. The company said it remained confident of achieving its medium-term operating margin target of 21%-to22%. The shares dropped 2.2% to 157.6p.

Recruitment company Hays (HAS) raised its outlook on first-half profit on improving trends in both its temporary and permanent business segments during the second quarter.

Operating profit for the first half of fiscal 2021 was now expected to be around £25 million following stronger fees seen in Q2, the company said. The shares rallied 1.5% to 143.5p.

Homewares retailer Dunelm (DNLM) said it expected pre-tax profit for first half of fiscal 2021 to be approximately £112 million, up 34% year-on-year as sales rose 23% to £585 million.

The guidance comes on the back of higher sales and margin in the second quarter.

For the 13-week period ended 26 December 2020, sales were up 11.8% to £360.4 million, with digital sales up 40%. The shares dropped 5.7% to £12.3.

Online retailer Boohoo (BOO) upgraded its outlook on performance as revenue rose 40% in the four months through the end of December.

Following the strong peak trading performance, the company raised its guidance on revenue growth for the financial year to 28 February 2021, to a range of 36% to 38%, from its previous guidance of 28% to 32%.

The adjusted EBITDA margin guidance for the year was maintained at around 10%.

In the four months to 31 December, revenue rose 40% to £660.8 million, with UK revenue up 40% to £357.2 million. Despite the good news the shares dropped 6.5% to 345.4p.

In a pre-close trading update online gambling company 888 (888) said revenue and active customer numbers in December rose to monthly records, prompting the company to upgrade its expectations for adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to be ‘moderately ahead’ of its prior estimates.

The shares added 2.5% to 310.5p.

Retailer Halfords (HFD) reported like-for-like sales rose 11.7% in the third quarter led by jump in autocentres sales on strong demand for the services of its growing fleet of mobile expert vans.

For the 13 weeks to 1 January 2021, retail like-for-like sales were 9.8% and autocentres like-for-like sales were up 21.1% year. The shares gained 1.4% to 281.4p.

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Issue Date: 14 Jan 2021