(Alliance News) – Stocks in London are set for another soggy start on Thursday amid lower oil prices and continued subdued sentiment due to trade war fears.
In early UK company news, grocer Tesco reported a strong start to the financial year, while peer Wm Morrison Supermarkets expanded its relationship with online retail giant Amazon. Packaging firm DS Smith reported double-digit rises in both annual profit and revenue.
IG says futures indicate the FTSE 100 index of large-caps to open 20.22 points lower at 7,347.40 on Thursday. The FTSE 100 index closed down 30.83 points, or 0.4%, at 7,367.62 on Wednesday.
“A cheaper pound may not be enough to increase the appetite in UK stocks this morning; energy stocks will likely feel the pinch of falling oil prices,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior market analyst at London Capital Group.
Data on Wednesday showed crude stockpiles in the US rose by 2.2 million barrels in the week to June 7, beating expectations for a sharp drop. A week earlier, crude stockpiles had increased by 6.8 million barrels.
This came after data released by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday evening said US crude inventories rose by 4.9 million barrels in the week ended June 7 to 482.8 million barrels. That compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 481,000 barrels.
“Traders are waiting for OPEC to announce an extension of the production cuts, some hope for deeper cuts, as the current deal will expire end of June,” said Ozkardeskaya.
Brent oil was quoted at USD60.50 a barrel early Thursday, down from USD60.85 a barrel at the London equities close on Wednesday. This, in turn, had been down sharply from USD62.54 at the close Tuesday.
Overnight, Brent dipped below USD60 a barrel as the commodity traded around its worst levels in 2019.
Meanwhile, sterling was quoted at USD1.2691 early Thursday, lower than USD1.2727 at the London equities close on Wednesday.
UK members of Parliament opposed to a no-deal Brexit failed in their latest attempt to seize control of parliamentary business in a bid to stop the next prime minister taking Britain out of the EU without a deal with Brussels. The Commons voted Wednesday by 309 to 298 to defeat a cross-party motion which would have given MPs control of the business of the House on June 25.
Earlier, Boris Johnson launched his bid to succeed Theresa May with a warning that Britain must leave the EU by the latest deadline of October 31, with or without a deal.
In early UK company news on Thursday, Tesco reported a good start to the financial year.
Total group sales excluding VAT and fuel were up 0.4% at constant exchange rates to GBP13.98 billion in the 13 weeks to May 25, rising 0.2% on a like-for-like basis.
Tesco’s total sales in the UK and Ireland were up 1.3% at constant exchange rates to GBP11.17 billion, up 0.8% on a like-for-like basis. This comprised a 0.4% like-for-like rise in the UK, 1.3% in Ireland and 3.1% for wholesaler Booker.
UK online grocery sales were up 7.0% year-on-year, while the closure of Tesco Direct in July last year hit sales growth by 0.8%.
“Booker continues to grow well despite lapping exceptionally strong growth last year driven by one-off contract wins,” the company commented.
In Central Europe, sales fell 7.9% at constant rates – down 4.9% like-for-like – while in Asia sales were up 2.6%, or 0.1% on a like-for-like basis.
Lower sales in Poland, which included a hit from store closures and two fewer trading days, hit sales in Central Europe by 4%. In addition, what was described as “significantly cooler weather” in the region further dented sales by up to 2%.
“We have had a strong start to the year, growing ahead of the UK market on both a volume and value basis,” said Chief Executive Dave Lewis.
Elsewhere in the grocery space, Wm Morrison Supermarkets said it is expanding the ‘Morrisons at Amazon’ store on Prime Now to more cities in the UK.
The grocery delivery service is currently available in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London, and will be rolled out to other cities – including Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield and Portsmouth in 2019, and then is expected to further expand in future years.
This move will see Morrisons becoming a retailer on Amazon’s Prime Now website and app, through ‘Morrisons at Amazon’, and selling directly to customers.
“Amazon has been a valued partner of Morrisons for over three years, and we are pleased to be expanding our relationship together. Continuing to partner with the best digital operators such as Amazon is a significant, capital light growth opportunity for Morrisons,” said Morrisons Chief Executive David Potts.
Paper and packaging firm DS Smith reported double-digit growth in both revenue and profit for its recently-ended financial year.
Revenue for the year to April 30 was up 12% to GBP6.17 billion, with pretax profit boosted 35% to GBP350 million. This lead to the firm raising its payout 13% to 16.2p.
Irish broker Davy did note, however, that DS Smith’s operating profit of GBP631 million was slightly below its forecast of GBP643 million and consensus of GBP644 million.
DS Smith recorded a return on sales margin of 10.2%, above its target of 8% to 10%. Following this strong performance, the company raised its medium-term return on sales target to between 10% to 12%.
Explaining the reasoning for the target upgrade, DS Smith said: “We expect margin to continue to grow in the medium-term due to our value-adding customer proposition, the benefit of contribution from NAPP and Europac, and from a continuous focus on cost and efficiency.”
Looking ahead, DS Smith said it expects further good progress in the recently-commenced financial year.
“We saw some volume weakness in certain export-led markets in the second half of 2018/19, including Germany, but we expect this to improve during the current year,” said Chief Executive Miles Roberts.
Consumer products maker PZ Cussons announced the departure of its chief financial officer as it said annual profit is expected in line with prior forecasts.
CFO Brandon Leigh has stepped down from the board immediately, the company said, with Commercial Finance Director Alan Bergin to assume his responsibilities until a replacement is found.
Separately, the Imperial Leather soap maker said it expects pretax profit before exceptional items for the year ended May 31 to be around GBP70 million.
“The expected outturn for the year reflects a resilient performance in Europe and Asia driven by product innovation and renovation as well as distribution expansion, and with the Group’s beauty division performing particularly well,” said PZ Cussons.
This performance in Europe and Asia has been as operations in Africa continued to be “disappointing” due to the macro economic situation in Nigeria and challenging conditions at the port.
Majestic Wine reported a swing to annual loss as it stepped up investment in its Naked Wines offering, and separately said it has made some board changes as it eyes expansion.
Revenue for the year to April 1 grew 6.3% to GBP506.1 million, but the group swung to a loss of GBP8.5 million from a GBP8.3 million profit the year before.
The swing to loss was as a result of investment in the firm’s Naked Wines offering, weaker Retail trading and a non-cash impairment charge relating to the Retail store estate of GBP11.1million.
Naked Wines, to which the company intends to shift its focus, delivered underlying sales growth of 15% in the year. The company said it is in advanced discussions over the possible sale of Majestic Retail and Commercial, talks which are expected to be finalised in the summer.
The wine retailer suspended its final dividend, having paid out 5.2p the year prior, but said it will replace this with a special dividend equal to last year’s payout if the sale of Majestic goes through.
Meanwhile, the company said Greg Hodder will step down as chair as the conclusion of August’s annual general meeting, to be replaced by John Walden.
“His experience of UK PLC corporate governance, digital and multi-channel consumer businesses and US markets will be an invaluable asset to the board as we enter our new growth phase,” said director Ian Harding of Walden.
In addition, president of the US Naked Wines division, Nicholas Devlin, will take up the role of group chief operating officer while retaining his divisional head role.
“The group has ambitious growth plans and now is the time to strengthen the leadership team with this newly created COO role to help successfully deliver our full potential,” said Harding.
In the US on Wednesday, Wall Street ended lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending down 0.2%, the S&P 500 also shedding 0.2% and Nasdaq Composite closing off 0.4%.
US President Donald Trump said he will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit later this month and also confirmed he will have talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan to discuss trade.
“I have a feeling we are going to make a deal with China,” Trump said on Wednesday at the White House, but also cautioned: “I’d like to make a deal but we will see what happens.”
David Madden at CMC Markets said trade concerns are likely to persist in the near-term, but “we might not see major moves in global stock markets until the G20 summit”.
In Asia on Thursday, the Japanese Nikkei 225 index ended down 0.5%. In China, the Shanghai Composite is flat, while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong is down 0.8%.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council remained closed on Thursday as debate on a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China was put on hold for another day.
Despite Wednesday’s protests and a march on Sunday that drew an estimated 1 million people – around one in 7 people in the semi-autonomous city – Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed to pass the bill before the legislature’s summer recess.
The extradition bill would allow for Hong Kong to send criminal suspects to countries where it lacks a long term agreement, including China.
The economic events calendar on Thursday has eurozone industrial production at 1000 BST and US import and export prices at 1330 BST.
By Lucy Heming; email@example.com
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