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LONDON MARKET PRE-OPEN: Wetherspoons Swings To Loss And Skips Payout

Fri, 16th Oct 2020 07:46

(Alliance News) - Stock prices in London are seen opening higher on Friday after a late rally in the US on Thursday, despite investors growing increasingly concerned about new lockdown measures in Europe.

In early company news, pub chain JD Wetherspoon swung to an annual loss and skipped paying a dividend. Asset manager Man Group reported a strong third-quarter performance and outsourcer Serco upgraded its earnings guidance.

IG futures indicate the FTSE 100 index is to open 43.98 points higher at 5,876.50. The blue-chip index closed 1.7%, or 102.54 points, lower at 5,832.52 Thursday.

JD Wetherspoon lamented the UK government's handling of the coronavirus crisis and the ramifications this has had on the pub industry.

For the financial year ended July 26, the company swung to a pretax loss of GBP34.1 million before exceptional items from a GBP102.5 million profit the year prior. After exceptional items and application of the IFRS 16 accounting rule for leases, Wetherspoon swung to a loss of GBP105.4 million. Revenue fell 31% to GBP1.26 billion from GBP1.82 billion, with like-for-like sales down 30%.

Wetherspoon said like-for-like sales in the first 11 weeks of the new financial year have been 15% below those of last year, with strong sales in the first few weeks, followed by a marked slowdown since the introduction in the UK of a curfew - which causes pubs and restaurants to close at 2200 BST.

The pub chain skipped its annual dividend, having paid out 12.0 pence the year before.

Chair Tim Martin said that, as a result of recent changes in regulations, the outlook for pubs over the remainder of the current financial year is "even more unpredictable".

"It appears that the government and its advisers were clearly uncomfortable as the country emerged from lockdown. They have introduced, without consultation, under emergency powers, an ever-changing raft of ill-thought-out regulations - these are extraordinarily difficult for the public and publicans to understand and to implement. None of the new regulations appears to have any obvious basis in science," Martin complained.

"For example, a requirement for table service was introduced - which is expensive to implement and undermines the essential nature of pubs for many people - pubs have now become like restaurants. Customers can approach the till in a shop, but not in a pub - which is, in no sense, 'scientific'".

Man Group reported a good performance in the third quarter and strong growth in funds under management.

For the quarter ended September 30, funds under management stood at USD113.1 billion, up from USD108.3 billion as at June 30. Man Group posted net inflows of USD1.7 billion for the third quarter.

In addition, Man Group said its USD100 million share buyback programme announced in September is "proceeding at the maximum permitted pace".

"We are pleased to report good performance in the third quarter and strong growth in funds under management. This was driven by robust net inflows into alternatives as anticipated, as well as performance gains across both alternative and long-only strategies. Engagement with clients remains good, although there is increasing uncertainty due to upcoming political events and current Covid-19 trends," said Chief Executive Luke Ellis.

Serco Group upgraded its earnings guidance after posting strong revenue growth in the third quarter.

The outsourcer expects full-year revenue to be around GBP3.9 billion and underlying trading profit in a range between GBP160 million to GBP165 million.

Serco said all of its regions worldwide are performing better than expected and have increased their forecasts for 2020. At both group level and in the divisions, effective cost control and the ability of systems to respond efficiently to increased demand has helped increase margins, it said.

"We expect the uncertainties of 2020 will persist into 2021 as the world grapples with recurring outbreaks of infection. We have only just started our budget review process, and we would not have a view concerning 2021 today which is materially different from that which we had at the time of our half year results in August," the company said.

In the US, lawmakers and the White House are unlikely to finalise a new stimulus plan before the November election, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday, even as President Donald Trump indicated he may raise his offer.

But there were signs late Thursday that the impasse might be easing, after Mnuchin said the administration would agree on a national testing plan that Democrats have called for in the package to help ease the damage from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Despite a late rally on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 0.1%, S&P 500 down 0.2% and Nasdaq Composite down 0.5%.

"US stocks also finished lower on the day, however, they managed to pull back from their lows as once again hopes of a stimulus package being agreed before the election were raised...This late pullback in US markets could well see European markets undergo a bit of a rebound on the open later this morning, however, it probably won't be enough to prevent the loss of a good proportion of the gains that we've seen from the previous two weeks," commented CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

The Japanese Nikkei 225 index ended down 0.3% Friday. In China, the Shanghai Composite is down 0.1%, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong is up 1.0%.

The pound was quoted at USD1.2894 Friday morning, down from USD1.2926 at the London equities close Thursday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out whether trade talks with the EU should continue after his deadline for reaching an agreement passed without a deal in place.

David Frost, the chief negotiator, said the UK was "disappointed" by the outcome of a EU summit in which the bloc signalled it was willing to continue trade negotiations but called on Britain to make the next move.

Frost said the prime minister would set out his response on Friday.

The euro was priced USD1.1707, flat from USD1.1705 at the European equities close Thursday. Against the yen, the dollar was trading at JPY105.25, flat from JPY105.30.

Brent oil was quoted at USD42.74 a barrel Friday morning, up from USD42.58 late Thursday. Gold was at USD1,906.78 an ounce, flat from USD1,904.50.

The economic calendar for Friday has eurozone inflation figures at 1000 BST and US retail sales at 1330 BST.

By Arvind Bhunjun; arvindbhunjun@alliancenews.com

Copyright 2020 Alliance News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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