Mike van Dulken and Artjom Hatsaturjants at Accendo Markets, commented to clients this morning:
FTSE 100 called to open +15pts at 7200, holding yesterday’s break above 7180, offering potential to resume post-Christmas rising channel, but yet to break above March highs. Bulls need a break above 7215 to convince of further upside. Bears require a breach of 7175 to keep the index under pressure. Watch levels: Bullish 7215, Bearish 7175
Calls for a positive open come in spite of a mixed Wall St close after weak US home sales data and an upbeat lead from Asia on the back of US-China trade truce optimism. China’s Xinhua reported “substantive progress” and Chinese lawmakers passed a new law to protect foreign investors, giving them equal status with state-owned companies.
UK lawmakers have rejected calls for 2nd Brexit referendum after mass Labour abstention, but overwhelmingly backed an Article 50 deadline extension. The move was widely anticipated, though, meaning the Pound is largely unchanged, trading 1% off 9-month highs against the USD.
In corporate news this morning;
Berkeley Group trading in-line with past 2 years. Reiterates updated 2019-21 pre-tax profit guidance (FY’19 c. +8%). Sees net cash in-line with H1 (c. £860m). Believes in long-term resilience of key markets despite short-term Brexit-related dislocations.
Wetherspoon H1 revs +7.1%, +6.3% like-for-like, op. profit -14.2%, pre-tax profit -10.5% (-18.9% pre-exceptional), free cash flow +95%, interim div flat; latest 6-week like-for-like sales +9.6% (good weather), labour costs rising; H2 costs to be higher vs last year; guidance unchanged.
National Grid tells Ofgem that its RIIO-T2 price controls will not bring changes customers need (bills kept low, energy decarbonised, innovation encouraged). Proposes changes that allow for a 5.5% return on equity, fairly reflecting risk-return balance for consumers and investors.
Restaurant Group FY revenue +1% (-2% like-for-like), adj. EBITDA -8.3%, adj. pre-tax profit -8.1%, free cash flow -30% after higher maintenance capex, net debt +8.6% after Wagamama takeover. Exceptional pre-tax charge of £39.2m (incl. £14.8m from M&A).
PageGroup CEO Steve Ingham has had an accident skiing, resulting in a severe back injury. Likely absent for a number of weeks. C-Suite to be led by CFO Kelvin Stagg. Boohoo appoints John Lyttle (ex-Primark COO) as CEO with immediate effect.
QinetiQ won US Army’s $164m 7-year contract for small ground robots, including $20m Low Rate Initial Production contract over 1-2 years. Awarded $4m upfront. SThree Q1 gross profit +9% (Contract +12%, Perm. +1%). Europe +12%, US +17%, UK/Ire -7%, Asia +5%. New CEO Mark Dorman to join 18 Mar. Confident in strong FY growth.
SSE to take on 17K customers from failed supplier Brilliant Energy. E.ON gets a contract from DS Smith to build UK heat and power facility. Just Group has completed a £75m/9.99% share placing at 80p per share, a 6.7% discount to the middle market price when the company and brokers agreed the placing price.
After being granted Chapter 11 creditor protection in Canada, British American Tobacco's Canadian unit Imperial Tobacco files for US chapter 15 bankruptcy to stop creditors seizing tobacco at US warehouses, while it negotiates how to settle a C$9.2bn Quebec smokers class action suit.
Ratings agency Moody's has been busy, upgrading its outlook on Micro Focus to Stable from Negative. It also affirms WPP’s rating but Outlook remains Negative. In telecoms, Moody’s says Vodafone leverage to remain high for next 2 years due to acquisition of Liberty Global assets, limited free cash flow after dividends and spectrum investment.
Closer to home, Moody’s says BT’s rating reflects leading UK market position, integrated business model and strong liquidity profile, but also declining revenues from Enterprise segment, greater regulatory headwinds at Openreach, risk of increasing CAPEX and large pension deficit.
In focus today:
The fallout from yet another Brexit vote, this time in favour of extending Article 50. This still requires unanimous approval from the EU27, however, who are going to want clear justification for any delay whatever the duration. What is the Prime Minister’s plan?
For macro data, the focus will be on Eurozone Inflation (10am). Headline price growth is expected to firm to 1.5% YoY from 1.4% prev., inching closer to the ECB’s at-or-below 2% target, while core inflation eases slightly (1% vs 1.1% prev.).
In the US, both Industrial and Manufacturing Production (12:30pm) are forecast to bounce back from a weak January, while preliminary UoM Consumer Sentiment (2pm) is seen strengthening for a 3rd straight month.
No speakers of interest today.