Antofagasta big hitter for busy Thursday

The Chilean miner will be looking to maintain its 2019 copper production forecasts after delivering a 22% rise in output for its first half

Playtech PLC - Antofagasta big hitter for busy Thursday

Antofagasta PLC (LON:ANTO) will be hoping for good news in its interims on Thursday after a production update in July reported a 22.2% increase in copper production for the first six months to 387,300 tonnes.

The Chilean miner has guided for 2019 copper production of between 750,000-790,000 tonnes, so any changes to this forecast are likely to be watched closely.

There may also be some news on what the company intends to do with its share of US$5.84bn in damages received from the government of Pakistan as the result of a seven-year-long arbitration over the Reko Diq project, which was run by a 50:50 joint venture between Antofagasta and Barrick Gold Corp (TSE:ABX).

Laura Ashley results hit by ‘very demanding’ trading

Full-year results from Laura Ashley Holdings plc (LON:ALY) on Thursday are expected to make for a grim reading after the British retailer warned of poor trading. 

In an April trading update, the homewares and clothing seller said the results will miss market forecasts as trading conditions were “very demanding” in the third quarter.

The statement comes months after a ditched takeover plan by Flacks Group.

Flacks said in April that it would not make a firm offer for Laura Ashley after the retailer dismissed an unsolicited bid from the investment firm.

CRH share buyback announcement expected

Irish building materials supplier CRH PLC (LON:CRH) reports its first-half results on Thursday in the wake of announcing it will sell its European distribution unit in a deal worth €1.64bn.

The disposal of the European distribution business is part of the group’s strategy to actively manage its portfolio for higher growth and more sustainable returns.

CRH plans to use the proceeds of the sale for general corporate purposes, acquisitions and returns to shareholders through an ongoing share buyback programme.

UBS said CRH is likely to announce another £350mln share buyback for the rest of the year in the interim results.

It expects CRH will report sales of €13.15bn, up 4.3% on a like-for-like basis, and earnings (EBITDA) of €1.56bn, compared to €1.1bn last year.

“We expect guidance for the second half to be for further EBITDA growth (UBS estimate +6%),” UBS said.

“We will also look for more colour on the previously issued margin improvement targets by 2021.”

Strong profit growth seen from Playtech

Playtech PLC (LON:PTEC) is due to publish interims on Thursday in a year that the gaming software provider expects to deliver a strong rise in underlying profits following a difficult but improved performance in 2018.

Shares in the FTSE 250 outfit, whose software is used by online casino and betting operators, are down almost two thirds in the past two years as the core B2B technology business was hit by a collapse in revenues from unregulated Asian markets.

Having now diversified into online financial trading and with the acquisition of Italian retail betting rival Snaitech, management have guided to underlying earnings (adjusted EBITDA) for the current year of €390mln-€415mln, after climbing 7% to €343mln last year on revenue up 54% to €1.24bn.

Analysts at JP Morgan Cazenove recently proposed a punt on Playtech, kicking off coverage of the stock with an ‘overweight’ rating and a punchy 603p price target.

Analysts see Playtech as “well placed to meet guidance for FY19, which we think will represent a trough in terms of organic growth, margin and cash flow”, suggesting the business is “less risky” than it was even a few months ago as revenues have been diversified by nature and geography by the acquisition of Snaitech, which dilutes the elevated risks associated with the B2B business.

February also saw Playtech sign a “significant extension” to its long-term deal with Ladbrokes and Coral owner GVC, which itself reported strong online growth this week.

Rank yet to hit its stride

Final results are expected to spin round from Mecca Bingo owner Rank Group PLC (LON:RNK) on Thursday.

At the end of May, the FTSE 250 group’s £115mln offer for Stride Gaming PLC (LON:STR) was recommended by the online bingo specialist’s board, with backing from shareholders holding more than 61% of the shares.

“The joining of our businesses will accelerate delivery of Rank's transformation plan and create one of the UK's leading online gaming businesses,” said Rank boss John O'Reilly.

Stride has had a difficult year as the online gaming industry has dealt with increased compliance and due diligence measures, the combination should roughly double Rank’s digital revenues, provide significant “synergy benefits” and bring improved technology in house, said broker Shore Capital.

For the year to June 2019, Shore has forecast Rank will generate earnings per share of 14p, increasing to 15.8p in the following year thanks to digital growth and the benefits of a current transformation programme, with Stride adding around 3p per share after three years.

John Laing hopes for pick-up in renewables assets

Infrastructure investor John Laing Group PLC (LON:JLG) will publish its half-year results on Thursday.

June’s trading update showed the company raked in £131mln from realisation in the first six months of the year, including the sale of stakes in a sports stadium in Australia and a wind farm in Texas. Over the next three years, bosses expect realisations will reach £1bn.

Issues with some of John Laing’s renewable assets – including lack of wind and transmission issues – have hampered performance in that division, but things have been better in the Public Private Partnership business, with Denver Eagle and Sydney Light Rail projects making good progress.

“We expect Jun 19 net asset value of c335p as JLG continues to create under-appreciated value, helped by a likely continuing fall in secondary market discount rates,” said City broker Peel Hunt.

Major announcements expected for Thursday August 22:

Finals: Arcontech Group PLC (LON:ARC), Laura Ashley PLC (LON:ALY), Rank PLC (LON:RANK)

Interims: Anglo Pacific PLC (LON:APF), Antofagasta PLC (LON:ANTO), CRH PLC (LON:CRH), Foresight Solar PLC (LON:FSFL), John Laing PLC (LON:JLG), Macfarlane Group PLC (LON:MACF), NMC Healthcare PLC (LON:NMC), Playtech PLC (LON:PTEC), Premier Oil PLC (LON:PMO), Sopheon PLC (LON:SPE), Sportech plc (LON:SPO)

FTSE 100 ex-dividends: Berkeley Group PLC (LON:BKG), London Stock Exchange Group PLC (LON:LSE)

Economic data: US weekly jobless claims

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