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Small cap movers: ASOS sinks as UBS warns it could be “biggest loser” from digital sales tax

A look at some of the more interesting stories from the junior market over the last week

ASOS PLC - Small cap movers: ASOS sinks as UBS warns it could be “biggest loser” from digital sales tax

Online clothing retailer ASOS PLC (LON:ASC) was under the cosh again this week after analysts at UBS warned the AIM 100 firm could be one of the biggest casualties of a proposed online sales tax.

In a bearish note on Thursday the Swiss investment bank said that assuming a 2% levy on sales, pre-tax profits at ASOS could tumble by as much as 36%.

While analysts said the company could offset some of the costs by either increasing prices or passing on the charge to customers, both would make it “less competitive” against rivals and cut into its already deteriorating margins.

To make matters worse, the company was also facing renewed pressure from short-sellers, with three investment funds having increased their short positions against the firm since the start of August.

As a result, the shares had slipped 4.7% in the week to 2,173p.

Meanwhile, fellow AIM 100 constituent Burford Capital Limited (LON:BUR) demoted the wife of its CEO from her role as finance chief with immediate effect to soothe investor concerns over its governance.

The group has also pledged to overhaul its board and appoint two new independent directors “as rapidly as possible”.

The moves follow an attack on the firm last week by hedge fund Muddy Waters, which in a scathing report branded the firm as “arguably insolvent” and criticised its leadership.

However, investors seemed to have taken some comfort from the plans, as despite some fluctuations the shares ended the week 0.6% higher at 855p.

Across the wider market, the AIM All-Share was down 3% at 859.6 while the FTSE 100 was 1.8% lower at 7,123.

Elsewhere on AIM this week, plant growth enhancement specialist Plant Health Care PLC (LON:PHC) saw its shares surge 61% to 8.9p after positive news from field trials of its PHC279 product.

PHC279 is designed to treat Asian Soyabean Rust, a potentially devastating disease that regularly affects soyabean yields in Brazil.

Miner Europa Metals Ltd (LON:EUZ) advanced 50% to 0.03p following what it said was a “great” drilling result from its Toral project in Spain.

In the oilers, Petro Matad Limited (LON:MATD) floated up 5.2% to 7p as it resumed operations at its Heron-1 well in eastern Mongolia.

The firm had previously suspended operations at the site due to a dispute over land use between the country’s central and local governments, however, on Wednesday it said that the parties were “resolving their issues”.

Another oil junior seeing good fortune was Attis Oil and Gas Ltd (LON:AOGL), which shot up 26% to 0.1p after it secured two new oilfield service contracts in the Texas Panhandle.

It wasn’t all good news for the sector, however, with Lansdowne Oil & Gas PLC (LON:LOGP) sinking 6.5% to 1.8p over the week as it said it was still waiting for a US$10mln loan advance as part of a farm-in for its Barryroe project in the Celtic Sea.

Agriculture firm Camellia PLC (LON:CAM) also came a cropper as a glut in the tea market put a dent in its earnings for the first half of 2019 and sent it swinging to a £4 million loss from a £6 million profit the year before. The shares fell 4.4% to 9,800p.

Filtration specialist Xeros Technology Group PLC (LON:XSG) was underwater after investors didn’t take kindly to plans for the group to exit its direct sales business by the end of the year, sending the shares down 11.7% to 8.1p.

Meanwhile, one of the week’s biggest plungers was ad agency M&C Saatchi Plc (LON:SAA), which tanked 32% to 230p after uncovering a £6.4 million accounting blunder.

The error was discovered as part of an internal review which kicked off in May after the firm’s auditor, KPMG, raised concerns that the company had misapplied its accounting policies.

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