LONDON (Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories Thursday.
Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC reported its sixth consecutive annual pretax loss, and its biggest since 2008, while unveiling a business restructuring that further scales down its investment bank and narrows the bailed-out bank's focus to the UK. RBS reported a GBP8.24 billion pretax loss for 2013, widened from GBP5.28 billion in 2012, after incurring GBP3.84 billion in provisions and GBP4.82 billion in impairments and other losses. In response, RBS shares plummeted by 8.3% to 324.50 pence in mid-morning trading.
RSA Insurance Group PLC unveiled a plan to raise GBP1.08 billion in order to plug a hole in its balance sheet, while also reporting a swing to a 2013 pretax loss following mounting claims from weather losses and the effects of an accounting scandal at its Irish business. The capital raising plan is made up of a planned GBP775 million rights issue, representing 20% of its market value, and a plan to raise GBP300 million from business disposals.
WPP PLC reported a near 20% rise in pretax profit to GBP1.3 billion and a 6% boost in revenue after making good progress despite currency headwinds and tough market conditions. Revenue for the full-year rose 6.2% to over GBP11.01 billion, supported by like-for-like growth of 3.5% and following a strong period for acquisitions, specifically boosting revenue 2.2%. The firm said 0.5% of revenue growth is attributable to currency. Pretax profit rose to GBP1.3 billion from GBP1.09 billion in 2012.
British American Tobacco PLC reported higher profits for 2013 as sales of its key brands continued to grow and it managed to raise prices, though unfavourable exchange rate movements took a chunk out of the profit gains. The world's second-largest listed tobacco company by revenue after Philip Morris International Inc. reported a pretax profit of GBP5.80 billion for the year, up from GBP5.59 billion in 2012, as revenues grew to GBP15.26 billion, from GBP15.19 billion. and it further boosted margins through cost cutting. Its closely watched profit from operations grew to GBP5.53 billion, from GBP5.37 billion.
Man Group PLC shares soared as Europe's biggest listed hedge fund manager said it swung to a profit in 2013, net outflows halved, client redemptions declined and its investment performance improved, although it said it remains cautious about its prospects this year. Man Group reported a pretax profit of GBP56 million for the year, compared with the GBP748 million loss it reported in 2012 when it booked large goodwill and impairment writedowns.
Premier Oil PLC announced a worse-than-expected fall in pretax profit for 2013 on exceptional costs and impairments, although it achieved a strong increase in revenues and said it is positive on its future outlook. The oil and gas producer said pretax profit fell 21% to USD285.4 million for the full year 2013 from USD359.9 million in the previous year, despite a 6.4% increase in revenue to USD1.50 billion from USD1.41 billion in 2012.
Whitbread PLC saw its shares jump after the hospitality brand owner reported strong sales growth for the last quarter, with trading by its brands boosted by a strong Christmas trading period and favourable weather in January. Whitbread recorded sales growth across its brands, which includes coffee chain Costa and low-cost hotel group Premier Inn. Reporting on sales for the 11 weeks to February 13, 2014, Whitbread said like-for-like sales for the quarter were up 6.8%, with total sales up 14% for the period.
Anglo-Dutch publisher Reed Elsevier PLC raised its dividend and said it will maintain its share buyback programme after reporting higher earnings in 2013 thanks to acquisitions and disposals it made. It said it expects further growth this year at constant currency rates.
Howden Joinery Group said pretax profit rose to GBP138.4 million for the full-year as the firm continued to invest across its business interests as trading conditions improved during the second-half. The trade kitchen and joinery products group said UK depot revenue grew 7.8% to GBP940.7 million, up 5.6% on a same depot basis, with growth of around 10% recorded in the second-half of the year.
Kazakhmys PLC said it swung to a pretax loss in 2013 but the company's fall in revenues and EBITDA were less severe than analyst expectations. Kazakhmys posted a pretax loss of USD681 million for the full year 2013 from a pretax profit of USD151 million in the previous year as revenues fell 7.5% to USD3.10 billion from USD3.35 billion in 2012.
Domino's Pizza Group PLC reported lower pretax profit for its last financial year due to the costs of restructuring its German business, but excluding these, profits rose as it continued to grow quickly and report higher sales from existing stores, particularly in the UK. The company reported a pretax profit of GBP21.6 million for the 52 weeks to December 29, down from GBP42.4 million for a 53 week period a year earlier, as it booked GBP26.0 million in exceptional costs, up from GBP4.0 million in 2012.
British outsourcing company Capita PLC said its 2013 pretax profits fell by 24% largely as a result of the disposal of its insurance distribution businesses, but said it has made a strong start to 2014 with contract wins totalling GBP588 million. Capita said it made a GBP215 million pretax profit for 2013, down from GBP281.4 million in 2012. Revenues rose by 16% to GBP3.90 billion. The difference resulted from lower gross profit die to a bigger increase in cost of sales against revenue growth, as well as a rise in administrative expenses to GBP756.2 million from GBP604.9 million
Merlin Entertainments PLC reported continued growth in visitor numbers, revenue and profits in the year that it floated on the London Stock Exchange. Visitors rose 11% during the year ended December 28, 2013, reaching 59.8 million from the 54 million recorded last year, resulting in a 11% increase in revenue, up to GBP1.19 billion from GBP1.07 billion in 2012. Pretax profit also rose, reaching GBP186 million for the year, up from GPB140 million. Operating profit was boosted 12% to GBP290 million from GBP258 million in 2012.
Standard Life PLC reported a 13% decline in pretax operating profit in 2013, as results in 2012 were inflated by a number of gains, but the results still managed to come in ahead of market expectations. The Edinburgh-based life insurer revealed that it has put in place provisional plans in case of Scottish voters approve independence, which could involve the move of parts of the company outside Scotland. The long-term savings and investments provider said it made an operating pretax profit of GBP751 million in 2013, compared with GBP867 million the year before.
Stocks are lower across Europe, while the dollar is stronger, as investors grow increasingly concerned about the escalating situation in the Ukraine, as armed men seize government and parliament buildings in the Crimea region, raising the Russian flag.
FTSE 100: down 0.9% at 6739.29
FTSE 250: down 0.4% at 16,401.33
AIM ALL-SHARE: down 0.4% at 883.98
GBP-USD: down at USD1.6633
EUR-USD: down at USD1.3653
GOLD: down at USD1,323.90 per ounce
OIL (Brent): down at USD109.30 a barrel
(changes since end of previous GMT day)
ECONOMICS AND GENERAL
Eurozone economic confidence improved for the tenth consecutive month in February, survey data from the European Commission showed. The economic sentiment index rose unexpectedly to 101.2 in February from 101 in January. The score was forecast to drop to 100.7.
The British economy is set to grow at a faster pace in 2014, supported mainly by strong improvement in business investment, Howard Archer, Chief UK and European Economist at IHS Global Insight, said. According to the economist, fourth quarter's broad-based growth would do little to change expectations that the Bank of England (BoE) will start inching interest rates up from the second quarter of 2015. IHS Global Insight expects the UK economy to expand 2.7% in 2014, following last year's 1.8% gain.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to be given the red carpet treatment in Britain on Thursday, as Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to win her support for his EU reform campaign. The German leader is to become the first to address both houses of the British parliament since 1986 and will also have lunch with Cameron and tea with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Germany's import prices decreased further in January, but at a slightly weaker rate than expected by economists, latest data showed. The import price index dropped 2.3% year-on-year in January, which was unchanged from December's rate of fall, the Federal Statistical Office said. Economists were looking for a 2.4% decrease for January.
Germany's unemployment rate declined in January, figures published by the Federal Statistical Office revealed. The seasonally adjusted ILO unemployment rate dropped to 5% in January from 5.1% in December. In January last year, the jobless rate was 5.4%. The number of unemployed persons in Europe's largest economy decreased to around 2.14 million from about 2.17 million at the end of 2013. Year-on-year, unemployment fell by 6.6%.
Switzerland's economic growth slowed for the second consecutive quarter due to the negative contribution to gross domestic product from the balance of trade, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said. Real GDP growth slowed more-than-expected to 0.2% from 0.5% seen in the third quarter. Growth was forecast to slow to 0.4%.
Two Muslim extremists were on Wednesday sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of a British soldier in broad daylight on a London street last year. Judge Nigel Sweeney sentenced Michael Adebolajo, 29, to a whole-life tariff, meaning he can only be released at the discretion of the home secretary under exceptional circumstances. His accomplice Michael Adebowale, 22, was handed a life sentence with a minimum of 45 years before he can apply for parole.
Ukrainian police and troops were put on high alert after pro-Russian armed men seized government and parliament buildings in the Crimea region. The gunmen, presumed to be members of self-defence units that emerged on the Black Sea peninsula after the toppling of president Viktor Yanukovych at the weekend, hoisted Russian flags on the buildings, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.
Moscow said that it was protecting deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in Russia. A request from Yanukovych to ensure his safety was fulfilled, an unnamed government source said in comments carried by all three Russian news agencies. Yanukovych, whose whereabouts had been unknown after he was ousted from office at the weekend, said in a statement he needed Russia's protection because "extremists" are threatening his life.
The Ukrainian parliament was due to appoint Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a key figure in the protests that led to the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych, as interim prime minister on Thursday. Yatsenyuk, 39, and other proposed cabinet members were nominated by anti-government protest leaders on Wednesday who presented them from the stage on Kiev's Independence Square, the base for the demonstrations that led to the departure of Yanukovych on the weekend. The political developments in Kiev come after Russia announced a combat-readiness drill along the border with Ukraine. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the drills were "by and large" not linked to events in Kiev.
The Syrian military killed more than 175 rebel fighters Wednesday in an ambush near Damascus, state news agency SANA reported. Syrian television showed pictures of rows of bodies that it claimed were the remains of rebels killed at Otaiba Lake in the Eastern Ghouta area.
The US late Wednesday condemned Syria for targeting the relatives of opposition members attending talks in Geneva. "Such actions blatantly disregard the international community's welcome, through unanimously approved UN Security Council Resolution 2139, of the Geneva talks," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. Damascus this month labelled as terrorists the delegates of the opposition coalition attending the so-called Geneva II peace talks
Thailand's embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra sent lawyers to hear corruption charges against her, relating to a national rice subsidy scheme, that could lead to her impeachment. Her legal team arrived at the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) headquarters at 2 pm (0700 GMT), but had to move to another nearby venue as the NACC panel had been blocked from entering the building by pro-government protesters.
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(Alliance News) - The threat of further destabilisation in the Middle East following a drone attack on a Saudi Arabian oil plant kept stocks broadly in the red in London on Monday, despite strong