Revised bets on interest rates in the UK and US today kept sterling under pressure.
The pound is below $1.22 for the first time since March, undone by recent hawkish Federal Reserve comments and last week’s surprise interest rates hold by the Bank of England.
Stocks in focus today include holidays business Saga and Flutter Entertainment after it spent £123 million on a Serbian betting firm.
FTSE 100 Live Wednesday
Pressure on pound continues
Flutter makes £123m acquisition
Everyman media posts bigger loss
FTSE closes at 7,593.22
16:36 , Daniel O'Boyle
The FTSE 100 closed at 7,593.22, down 0.4%, as the pound remained at six-month lows.
The index started the day flat but declined in the late morning and early afternoon.
The ever-volatile Ocado was the biggest faller, losing more than 9%, while British Gas owner Centrica was down 5%. Risers inluded IMI and BP.
Number of businesses in the UK falls for first time in a decade
16:12 , Daniel O'Boyle
The number of VAT or PAYE-registered businesses in the UK fell this year for the first time since 2011, according to official figures released today.
The Office for National Statistics today revealed that there are 2.73 million tax-registered businesses in the UK, as of March 2023. That is down by 1.5% from the same time in 2022.
It is the first decline in over a decade, with the number of businesses edging up even during the pandemic.
US shares close to flat
15:12 , Daniel O'Boyle
US shares are close to flat today, in a tentative start to trading on Wall Street.
The S&P 500 is up 0.1% to 4278, while the Nasdaq is up 0.2% at 13,081.47. The Dow Jones index is slightly lower at 33,600.03.
Among the risers was film studio Paramount, on the end of the US writers’ strike. Fallers included food giant General Mills.
Amigo loans expects to liquidate within months
14:38 , Daniel O'Boyle
Guarantor lender Amigo said that it expects to go into liquidation within “the next few months,” on Wednesday as the failed business continues to wind down its operations.
The company said that it was progressing with the plans to ensure that it can pay back as much of the money it can.
Bosses said they are still open to finding a buyer for the business, but if no-one comes forward “very soon,” shareholders will be left with nothing.
Morrisons boss David Potts to quit
14:10 , Daniel O'Boyle
Morrisons boss David Potts is set to quit after five years in charge of the supermarket.
Potts exits after leading Morrisons through its acquisition by American private equity fund Clayton, Dubilier & Rice in a bid led by ex-Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy. That £7 billion, funded mostly by debt, followed an intense bidding war.
He will be replaced by Rami Baitieh, who led French supermarket giant Carrefour, in November.
Gold and silver investments jump as people hunt for better returns – Royal Mint
13:22 , Daniel O'Boyle
More investors are pouring money into gold and silver as people opt for “safe haven” investments to boost their savings amid the cost-of-living crisis, the Royal Mint has said.
The company said investors could be turning to precious metals as an alternative to high-street savings rates and disappointing returns on stocks and shares investments.
It reported a 17% increase in first-time precious metal investors during the first half of 2023 compared to last year.
City Comment: Truss wrecked our economic reputation. A year on, it hasn’t recovered
12:37 , Jonathan Prynn
The anniversaries keep coming.
Yesterday it was a year to the day since the pound plunged to its all-time low against the dollar. And tomorrow the Bank of England can light a candle to mark 365 days since it swooped into the gilts market to halt the worst collapse in government bonds on record.
Within weeks, one architect of the chaos, the ex-chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, was out of a job, followed just 11 days later by his former boss, the ill-fated Liz Truss.
Despite all the calming balm that has been applied to the financial markets since then by the current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the fallout from that extraordinary week is still being felt today.
FTSE falls into red
11:53 , Daniel O'Boyle
The FTSE 100 has slipped back into negative territory after a steady start to the day.
The index is hovering around the 7600 mark, down around 0.3% since opening, with Ocado leading the fallers again. The delivery firm’s share price is now back to 648p, almost exactly where it started the year, having fallen as low as 358p in the spring and hit as high as 976p in July.
The pound continues to sit at six-month lows, currently buying $1.2147.
Saga to borrow more money from its chairman ahead of bond repayment
11:37 , Daniel O'Boyle
Saga, the specialist travel group and insurer for the over-50s, said today it would borrow more money from its chairman, ahead of a £150 million bond repayment, having dropped plans to sell its underwriting business.
Sir Roger De Haan will now lend the company up to £85 million, an increase of £35 million. Saga said the arrangement would “provide additional financial flexibility”. It was also extended until the end of 2025, with the bond due in May 2024.
It also said finance director, James Quin, is leaving the company after 5 years in the job, having helped it reduce net debt by £250 million. He will be replaced by Mike Hazell, who was recently interim CFO at the Co-Op Group.
London pubs help Shepherd Neame break records with tourists and commuters pouring back
10:49 , Daniel O'Boyle
Takings at the London pubs run by Britain’s oldest brewer are at record levels as the return of office workers and tourists to the capital gathers momentum.
Shepherd Neame said today that like-for-like sales within the M25 were up over 30% as it reported record annual revenue of over £166 million, up almost 10%, for the year to June 24.
Chief executive Jonathan Neame told the Standard said the rebound in the capital occurred “across the board”.
Downgrades hit property stocks, FTSE 100 steady
10:21 , Graeme Evans
An upbeat Land Securities today failed to prevent investors staging a fresh flight from central London-focused property stocks.
The selling came after US bank Jefferies slashed its price targets on leading players including FTSE 250-listed Derwent London and Great Portland Estates.
The downgrades emerged just as LandSec prepared to brief analysts and investors at two of its new London office developments, Lucent at Piccadilly Circus and n2 in Victoria.
The FTSE 100 company said it continued to see strong customer demand, with overall occupancy up to 96.9% and existing office space in Victoria completely let.
Chief executive Mark Allan said the performance reflected the company’s “decisive” positioning for a higher-for-longer interest rate environment, with demand for quality space in the best locations still resilient.
Despite his comments, LandSec shares shed 8.8p to 596.4p after Jefferies lowered its price target to 465p. Derwent fell 22p to 1887p and Great Portland lost 14.2p to 417.6p as the US bank removed its “buy“ ratings on both stocks.
Among today’s other developments, Centrica reversed 6.45p to 159.7p after Morgan Stanley advised clients to start taking profits following a strong run for the shares. The bank still sees upside to 190p, but with better opportunities elsewhere.
The British Gas owner was one of the leading fallers in a session when the FTSE 100 index edged 1.86 points higher at 7627.58. The FTSE 250, which rose 3.91 points to 18,340.56, was topped by North Sea production firm Ithaca Energy after the Rosebank development off the Shetland Islands got the go ahead.
Ithaca, which holds a 20% interest in the UK’s largest undeveloped field, surged 7% or 11p to 174.2p.
Pounded: Sterling heads to worst month for a year
09:34 , Daniel O'Boyle
THE pound remained under intense selling pressure today as global investors backed the dollar leaving sterling on track for its worst month since Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget a year ago.
Last week’s surprise call by the Bank of England to pause interest rate rises is spooking currency markets, while the US Federal Reserve seems open to more rate increases.
Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The pound is continuing its downward slide against the dollar and is hovering around the lowest point since mid-March, as expectations for future interest rate policy in the UK and the US diverge. Demand appears to be seeping out of the UK economy faster than in the US. While the Bank of England has kept the door open to another hike, it’s not looking likely, while the Fed has flagged another interest rate rise is likely this year with higher rates set to stay for longer.”
09:14 , Simon Hunt
Chapel Down today said it was braced for its best-ever harvest as the English winemaker posted a jump in sales.
The firm said it had recently begun harvesting and expects its 2023 vintage to be “of an exceptional quality” with a “record-breaking volume and yield.”
CEO Andrew Carter told the Standard: “We’re excited about the amount of grapes we will be picking.
“We had a warm May and June, when the grapes are budding and flowering, while the September sunshine and rain has provided an ideal set of growing conditions.”
Sales after tax for the first six months of the year jumped 21% to £8.4 million, while pre-tax profits climbed 26% to £618,000. However, sales of white wine saw a slight softening in light of increased prices following a hike in alcohol duty.
Carter said the business was on track to double in sales between 2021 and 2026.
Chapel down shares rose 2.8% to 45p.
Property stocks under pressure, Ithaca Energy jumps 8%
08:47 , Graeme Evans
The FTSE 100 index held firm today, despite pressure on property and energy stocks.
Fallers included Land Securities, which dropped 14.6p to 590.6p even though it revealed 96.9% occupancy in its central London office portfolio.
Meanwhile, FTSE 250-listed Derwent London and Great Portland Estates fell 46p to 1863p and 18.8p to 413p respectively after analysts at Jefferies removed “buy” recommendations on the pair and lowered price targets.
In the energy sector, British Gas owner Centrica lost 4% or 7.45p to 158.7p and the poor run for biomass power station business Drax continued in the FTSE 250 index with a fall of 6.1p to 434p.
The biggest rise in the second tier came from Ithaca Energy, which jumped 8% or 13.6p to 176.8p following the go ahead for the Rosebank development off the Shetland Islands. Ithaca has a 20% interest in the UK’s largest undeveloped field.
The FTSE 250 fell 24.42 points to 18,312.23, while the FTSE 100 stood less than one points lower at 7624.78.
Summer heatwave cools Autumn/Winter sales at H&M
08:14 , Daniel O'Boyle
H&M’s sales this month are set to fall by 10% as the late burst of hot weather cooled interest in the rollout of its Autumn/Winter line.
The fast fashion giant said “unusually hot weather in several of the company’s European markets” hit sales, as the mercury in London hit 33 degrees.
It follows “flattish” revenue over the Summer, even as rival Zara’s sales boomed.
H&M, like most fast-fashion retailers, as been working to up its profit margins. Last week, the business started charging for returns, in an attempt to discourage shoppers from buying an item, often on credit, wearing it once and then bringing it back.
CEO Helena Helmersson said: “The focus during the quarter has been on profitability and inventory efficiency, resulting in strong cash flow and good profit development. We are taking further steps towards our goals and creating conditions for profitable growth over time.”
Flutter to buy Serbian betting firm for £123 million
07:59 , Daniel O'Boyle
Paddy Power owner Flutter has spent £123 million to buy a majority stake in Serbian betting firm MaxBet.
Flutter will acquire 51% of the business, which owns both betting shops and an online business in Serbia, with an option to buy the remainder “on similar terms” in 2029. MaxBet’s revenue in the 12 months to June 2023 was €145 million (£126 million), with profits of €32 million.
MaxBet may have appeared a likelier target for Flutter’s main rival Entain, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral and set out plans last year to acquire a series of “local heroes” in Eastern European countries. Flutter, apart from the 2019 purchase of a Georgian betting site, has generally stuck to brands that operate in larger countries.
Flutter CEO Peter Jackson said: “We believe MaxBet is an excellent opportunity to replicate the success we have achieved in markets like Georgia, India and Italy by acquiring a strong brand in a podium position, where we see a compelling opportunity to combine that extensive local expertise with the power of the Flutter Edge to accelerate and transform growth.”
Everyman losses grow fivefold as ticket sales slide
07:26 , Simon Hunt
Losses at Everyman grew fivefold after a fall in ticket sales at the cinema chain.
The firm posted a pre-tax loss of £4.3 million for the first six months of the year, up from just under £800k a year ago, as admission numbers fell 11% to 1.6 million. But it said sales had begun to rise in recent weeks following the blockbuster Barbie and Oppenheimer releases.
Everyman expanded its credit facilities from £25m to £35m and agreed a sale-and-leaseback deal on one of its sites to swallow the losses. It said it would continue to be a going concern under scenarios in which ticket sales did not fall further.
US worries hit sentiment, FTSE 100 seen slightly lower
07:25 , Graeme Evans
The poor run for Wall Street shares continued yesterday after all three major benchmarks closed more than 1% lower, led by a fall of 1.6% for the Nasdaq Composite.
The slump came as the economic outlook darkened due to weaker-than-expected consumer confidence figures and as traders worried about a US government shutdown if Congress fails to agree funding beyond the end of this month.
The prospect of higher-for-longer US interest rates has also depressed sentiment in the past week, leaving the S&P 500 index at a thiree month low following last night’s decline of 1.5%.
Shares in Paris and Frankfurt came under pressure yesterday, although the boost of a weaker pound on overseas-earning stocks helped the FTSE 100 index to close near its opening mark.
Sterling today stood at $1.214, having fallen to its lowest level since March earlier this week.
CMC Markets expects the FTSE 100 to open nine points lower at 7616, while futures markets are pointing to a better session on Wall Street later today. Markets in Asia were higher this morning, led by the Hang Seng index with a 0.7% improvement.
Recap: Yesterday’s top stories
Tuesday 26 September 2023 22:43 , Simon Hunt
Good morning. Here’s a summary of our top headlines from yesterday:
Ofwat orders Thames Water to return £100 million to customers after series of failings exposed in report
Fallen stock market darling ASOS struggles continue: profits to come at bottom of expected range, revenue down 15% amid “deterioration in the UK clothing market” in wet July and August
Close Brothers profits halve to £112 million as share trading at City broker Winterflood slows
Card Factory boosted by bumper Valentine Day sales