- Fewer than 1m Americans registered as unemployed last week
- FTSE drops as ex-dividend stocks drag on blue-chip index
- TUI swings to deep loss as revenues collapse
- National Express warns demand remains “suppressed”
- Profits wiped out at 4imprint and Renishaw
- Dignity shares soar after watchdog delays funeral probe
- US offers tariff relief on UK gin and shortbread…
- …but single-malt whiskey still faces charges
- Bulb charged £1.8m over compliance failures
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Well that's all from us today, join us again in the morning.
Here's a quick recap of today's events:
It was a poor day for Britain’s top stock indices, with London’s blue-chips feeling the impact of a slew of stocks trading “ex-dividend”, meaning investors who bought their shares would not be entitled to the companies next payout.
BP, Shell, Diageo, AstraZeneca, GSK and Legal & General were all among those trading ex-divi.
GVC Holdings was the only blue-chip to release results, briefly leading risers on the FTSE 100 after posting consensus-beating guidance but scrapping its interim dividend.
Wall Street opened mixed, with the Dow sliding 0.4pc, despite data showing new weekly claims for unemployment benefits fell below one million for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March.
What to look forward to tomorrow:
Interim results: Lookers
Economics: Industrial production, retail sales (China); Q2 GDP (eurozone); retail sales, consumer sentiment (US)
Europe closes in the red
London's benchmark index closed 1.30pc lower to 6,198.19 while the FTSE 250 fell 0.75pc.
Most of today’s weakness has been reflected in the oil and gas sector after the IEA downgraded its outlook for oil demand due to concerns about the outlook for air travel, with Royal Dutch Shell and BP under pressure after three days of decent gains.
The Stoxx 600 index dropped by 0.5pc, with small losses in Frankfurt and Paris.
Michael Hewson of CMC Markets said:
European stocks have given up some of their gains of the last few days, after US House Speak Nancy Pelosi pushed back on the prospect of a stimulus agreement plan in the near future. With the S&P500 close to record highs it would appear that US politicians are tone deaf to the very real risks to the economy of their procrastination, at a time when their stock portfolios are looking quite healthy, and the US jobs market continues to show signs of improving.
It has now been nearly two weeks since the $600 a week unemployment enhancement benefit ended, and thus far we haven’t seen a significantly negative effect in the weekly jobless claims numbers, though this could change quickly in the coming weeks.
New Look launches restructuring of finances
High street retailer New Look has launched a major restructuring of its finances to reduce its costs after sales were hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
PA has the details:
The company said it is asking landlords to accept new lease contracts on its stores which are based on turnover as it battles the "challenging retail market environment".
New Look said 459 of its 496 stores have reopened but it has reported a 38% fall in like-for-like store sales since reopening due to the "continued impact of Covid-19 on footfall".
igel Oddy, chief executive officer of New Look, said: "As has been the case for many retailers, New Look's financial position has been significantly impacted by Covid-19, and over the past five months we have had to take a number of tough but necessary decisions and actions to manage the impact this has had on our business and our people.
"As a result of taking decisive measures to preserve and maximise liquidity since the onset of the pandemic, we have maintained our cash position through the lockdown period, and this has also in part been helped by strong online trading."
Footfall still down by two-thirds in central London hotspots
Visitors have been slow to return to the key parts of the West End even as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease - sparking fears of the demise of the cultural heartland, my colleague Rachel Millard writes.
There has been a 10pc increase in visitor numbers to the area covering Leicester Square, Piccadilly and St James's since August 1 when workers were encouraged to go back to the office.
But with theatres still closed and many workers not yet returning, footfall remains 65pc down on last year. The Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents 500 major businesses and 100 property owners in the area, including the Ritz hotel and the National Gallery, says the government needs to do far more to encourage people back out onto the streets.
Chief executive Ros Morgan said: "It is only with this increase in numbers that it will be viable for shops, cafes and cultural institutions to reopen.
"Spending time in London involves a rich variety of experiences with many people who work in central London then spending the evening unwinding in the West End.
“Without people feeling reassured that public transport is safe or encouraged back to work, that delicate ecosystem will wither and some of it may not recover."
Job vacancies rise
Hiring is back as the economy reopens and bosses take on more staff, raising hopes that the newly unemployed will be able to get back to work.
My colleague Tim Wallace reports:
More than 1.1m jobs are available according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), including an extra 125,000 new postings in the past week.
The Office for National Statistics found that online vacancy adverts are now up to 62pc of their 2019 level, up from just over half in late July and a low of 42pc in May.
Previously closed industries are bringing back furloughed workers, with less than 14pc of all private sector staff now paid to stay at home. This is down by more than half from its peak, indicating that most are now working once more.
In the final fortnight of July more than one-quarter of all staff in arts, entertainment, and recreation returned to work, the ONS found, meaning that less than half of that industry’s workforce is now furloughed.
DIY boom boosts Topps Tiles sales
Topps Tiles has been buoyed by Britons spending more time and cash on DIY projects at home, so it now expects to make a “modest” profit this year.
My colleague Laura Onita reports:
The tile specialist has also seen a return of tradesmen to its stores and website as the construction sector becomes more active after lockdown.
Sales for the last six weeks rose 15.5pc year-on-year. This means the year to the end of September will be a profitable one, despite a slump in sales in April and May.
The company agreed a sale and leaseback of its head office in Leicester and central warehouse buildings to shore up its finances. It has £9m of net cash and access to a further £58m of financing facilities if necessary.
It said it has stopped claiming furlough money for its staff as all 300 stores are now open. Chief executive Rob Parker said he was pleased with how the business has navigated the coronavirus crisis and he was confident it was well positioned for whatever comes next.
US jobless claims fall beneath 1m
Initial jobless claims in the US fell below 1m last week, the first time the count has dropped below the threshold since the virus hit America.
In total, 963k people made initial applications for unemployment benefits. At almost any other time in history, that would be an extraordinary figure, by by recent standards (and against expectations of a 1.1m reading) it looks comparatively healthy.
Meanwhile, continuing claims fell to 15.5m:
Daily Mail publisher to cut 100 jobs – Guardian
Daily Mail & General Trust – publisher of the Daily Mail, Metro, i and Mail on Sunday – plans to cut 100 jobs due to Covid-19, the Guardian reports.
One hundred roles have been put at risk, although it is not clear ultimately how many people will be made redundant. The majority of the cuts will come from the commercial side of the business.
Editorial changes will include the scrapping of the Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine as a standalone product. Printing of the magazine was halted during the pandemic, with content including a column by Piers Morgan running in the Mail on Sunday instead.
The group previously decided not to furlough staff, instead asking staff to accept pay cuts and offering shares as recompense.
- Read more: Where the jobs axe is falling across the UK
Tim Wallace: A return to the office matters more than meal vouchers
Things have gone fairly quiet ahead of the latest US jobless claims data.
Handily, my colleague Tim Wallace has offered his take on the economic challenges ahead.
Tim – who has used the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme three times (for full disclosure, I must note than I have yet to partake in the discount scheme) – says a rebound in dining out isn’t the boost the UK needs: rather, Brits need to get back to offices and schools.
If you can sit next to a group of diners at the local curry house, you can also sit a short distance from your colleagues – back in the office.
Anyone eating out expects waiters, bartenders and chefs to do their jobs, so has hardly got an excuse for their own reluctance to return to work.
Bosses chowing down at the Chancellor’s (or taxpayers’) expense can hardly fail to notice this gulf either. Their staff cannot have it both ways: to simultaneously be perfectly happy to risk infection for a ten quid bargain, but remain horrified by the hazards of the commute.
So now is their moment: combined with the return of school, the coming weeks are an ideal time to return to business as usual.
Apple plans subscription bundles
Apple is set to kick off the next stage in the deepening subscriptions price war by creating new subscription bundles to lock-in the loyalty of iPhone users, a report claims.
My colleagues report:
Named Apple One, the bundles will let customers subscribe to several of the company’s digital services at a lower cost, according to sources speaking to Bloomberg.
The bundles, which will come in different tiers and will be geared towards families, could be launched in October alongside the new iPhone, helping users save up to $5 (£3.80) each month.
According to Bloomberg, a basic package will include Apple Music and Apple TV+. A tier up from that could have music, TV and the Apple Arcade gaming service.
The next tier will add Apple News+ and another premium bundle will add extra iCloud storage. The tech giant is also believed to be developing a new subscription for fitness classes.
Here are a few more companies to have reported results today:
- Sewing supplies maker Coats Group saw profits before tax swing to just $10.6m in the first half of the year, from $85.5m during the same period last year. Revenues took a 26pc hit, which the group attributed to the impact of Covid-19. Chief executive Rajiv Sharma said: “Coats is focused on seizing the short-term and longer-term opportunities that are presented, and I am confident that Coats will emerge even stronger and more valuable to our industry and shareholders in a post-COVID world”. Royal Bank of Canada’s Charles Mortimer said the group appears to be trending towards improved trading.
- Mast operator Helios Towers reported improved underlying earnings, saying it has suffered “no significant operational impact” as a result of the virus. Revenue rose 7pc in the first half compared to 2019, but was almost unchanged quarter-on-quarter. Chief executive Kash Pandya said: “The first half of 2020 saw our business deliver in line with expectations, in the face of seismic disruptions to the wider global commercial backdrop due to the Covid‐19 impact.” Jefferies’ Giles Thorne said the group’s expansion plans look convincing.
- Retirement investment services provider Just Group reported a first-half profit before tax jump from £125.3m last year to £304.5m, despite higher costs, thought its operating profit slipped 18pc. Chief executive Dave Richardson said: “We recognise there are short term macroeconomic uncertainties, including the UK property market, but we have multiple levers at our disposal, and we are demonstrating our execution credentials”.
Weekly road fuel sales dip for first time since April
Daily road fuel sales at Britain’s petrol stations dipped on a weekly average for the first time since April, according to data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Filling stations sold an average of 15,438 litres per day in the week to August 9th, a weekly decline of 0.9pc. On July 31st, daily sales broke through the pre-lockdown average for the first time since Covid-19 struck – they haven’t passed the threshold again since.
CMA scales back funeral investigation
The surge in deaths caused by Covid-19 has forced the Competition & Markets Authority to scale back its investigation into funeral costs.
The watchdog said the “unprecedented” rise in demand for funerals has “made it difficult to obtain necessary data from funeral directors, crematoria operators and local authorities”.
It warned that has made conducting researching and developing forecasts impossible, adding that current strain on local authorities make intervention increasingly difficult.
This combination of circumstances highlights a serious dilemma. On the one hand, it is clear that the funerals sector is not working well and that reforms will be needed. On the other hand, the pandemic has created insurmountable obstacles to some of the solutions needed to design and implement far-reaching reform of the sector at this stage.
Nonetheless, it has pressed ahead with some measures, includingcalling on “all funeral directors and crematoria to provide customers with information on, and the prices of, the various services and packages they offer.”
Martin Coleman, the inquiry chair, said:
The later stages of the investigation have been conducted in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a tragic increase in death rates and has materially changed how funerals are carried out. This has had a big impact on how far we can immediately address some of the issues we have identified...
But there are remedies that are feasible and effective in the short term. We are proposing a package of ‘sunlight’ remedies which will shine a light for consumers on the pricing and practices of the sector and make sure that deceased people are cared for properly.
Peel Hunt’s Charles Hall said the announcement “should be a relief for the industry given that there will not be a price control regime for some time”, but noted the watchdog looks determined to return to the topic.
London City airport delays expansion plans
London City airport has put the next stage of its £480m expansion plan on pause as the aviation sector reels from the impact of Covid-19.
It plans to complete new aircraft stands, a full-length parallel taxiway and new passenger facilities, before pausing while it re-evaluates the timing of future development. It means a new terminal and an extension to its east pier have been put on ice.
The airport operator said:
While over the summer there has been a return to flying, the recovery of the UK aviation market has been slower than expected with demand well below normal levels, including at London City, where passenger volumes will be well down on the record breaking 5.1 million passengers who used the airport last year.
Furthermore, it has become clearer that the recovery to previous levels will take longer than initially expected.
Chief executive Robert Sinclair said:
For the time being, we have taken the decision to focus our attention on delivering the vital additional airfield infrastructure which will provide our existing and prospective airline customers with the potential to bring new generation aircraft to this airport in greater numbers, which will be a crucial aspect of how we build a better, more sustainable airport.
Completing the terminal extension and new east pier very much remains part of our future, and, with the foundations for both in place, we stand ready to take those projects forward when demand returns.
Watches of Switzerland returns to growth
Watches of Switzerland returned to sales growth over the past two months after taking a significant sales hit from Covid-19.
In a combined results release and trading statement, the retailer said revenues dropped nearly 85pc in the last six weeks of its last trading year, which ran to April 26th.
It has gradually recovered since then, however, with sales up 7.4pc in July.
The FTSE 250 group’s profits for the full year were wiped out, falling from a £20.1m profit before tax in 2019 to a £0.8m loss.
Chief executive Brian Duffy said:
Overall regional stores and domestic customers offset the greater declines in London, airport and tourist business. In the US post re-opening, all areas of the business performed strongly driven by enhanced clientelling and good product availability.
Shore Capital’s Greg Lawless said the results show a favourable trajectory, adding:
We wonder whether the current market conditions may accelerate a fallout of the competitor set and enable the company to take advantage of both its market leading position and balance sheet strength to further consolidate the market with potential bolt-on acquisitions
Little change to the state of European markets so far this morning, with the FTSE 100 still well below continental peers. London’s blue-chips are feeling the impact of a slew of stocks trading “ex-dividend”, meaning investors who buy those shares today won’t be entitled to the companies next payout.
Markets.com’s Neil Wilson says notes heavyweights “BP, Shell, Diageo, AstraZeneca, GSK and Legal & General [are] among others going ex-dividend”.
National Express warns activity still ‘suppressed’
National Express has warned travel activity is still at “much suppressed levels” after swing to a £60.7m loss before tax for the first half of the year.
Revenues dropped by 22.7pc to £1.03bn compared to £1.34bn for the same period in 2019, with free cash flow also swinging to £193m in the red.
The FTSE 250 group said it had seen “encouraging early signs of demand returning”, but warned it remains under pressure. Warning it was impossible to know whether demand will return to pre-virus levels, it said tests for a worst-case scenario showed it would be able to continue operating even in the event of new lockdowns.
The year started extremely well with outstanding results in January and February. Covid-19 then had an immediate and unprecedented impact on all of our businesses from March onwards.
Chief executive Dean Finch said:
While there are some signs of demand returning, levels are both significantly reduced and subject to variability given local lockdowns, the impact of quarantines and uncertainty over the extent of US school re-openings
Royal Bank of Canada’s Stephani D’Ath said National Express still looked like a strong business despite the pandemic.
Here are some of the day’s top stories from the Telegraph Money team:
- Graduates earn 35pc more – but leave university with £55k in debt. Is it worth it?: Students who received A-level results this morning will now be weighing up whether university is the right option. Is £55,000 of debt worth it for some remote learning and no freshers’ week?
- Soaring property market won’t last as estate agents warn of ‘boom followed by bust’: House price growth will falter as Government support is withdrawn, estate agents have warned, with some forecasting a “boom followed by a bust”.
- ‘I had to get a mortgage with my mum’: first-time buyers frozen out by banks take out unusual loans: Desperate first-time buyers have resorted to using increasingly obscure and complex mortgages to achieve their dreams of homeownership after being hit by a lending market crunch.
Renishaw drops after ‘frustratingly vague’ results
Gloucester-based engineer Renishaw has dropped today after the group reported a profit wipeout in results slammed by an analyst for as lack of detail on current trading conditions.
The FTSE 250 group’s profit before tax for the full year dropped 97pc to £3.2m, while revenues were down 11pc.
Renishaw said its metrology revenue took a hit due to US–China tensions, while its healthcare operations were hit by Covid-related delays. It took the biggest hit in the Europe, Middle East and Africa operating regions, with a 17pc revenue fall.
Sir David McMurtry, its executive chairman, said it had been a “particularly challenging year for the group”.
The group chose not to pay a final dividend, blaming “ongoing macreconomic uncertainty”.
Stifel’s Mark Davies Jones called Renishaw’s results “frustratingly vague on current trading and near-term prospects”, warning the group doesn’t sound like it expects “the sort of rapid V-shaped recovery that in our view would be necessary to justify current valuations”.
Profit wiped out at 4imprint
Covid-19 wiped out profits at promotional products maker 4imprint, which said trading had been “severely affected” by the pandemic.
The FTSE 250 group – one of the 2010s best London-listed performers – saw its first half profit drop from $19.45m last year to $0.03m. Revenues fell by more than a third, to $265.8m.
It said the pandemic had “caused an unprecedented collapse in demand that severely impacted our results”.
4imprint said it would not propose an interim dividend, have previously scrapped its full-year payout in the face of “substantial residual economic uncertainty”.
The group said it entered the pandemic in “excellent financial health”, which it said had allowed it to weather the downturn with compromising its operations. Its board added:
Although significant uncertainty remains over the likely duration and extent of the pandemic, the board is confident that the core strength of the group’s highly flexible business model and competitive positioning will allow it to take advantage of the opportunity presented by a recovering market, leaving it well placed to re-establish the growth pattern of recent years.
Liberum’s Joe Brent said 4imprint remains “financially strong”, adding that a “severe US recession” is the main threat to the group.
GVC ditches interim dividend
Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC briefly led risers on the FTSE 100 after posting consensus-beating guidance, but scrapping its interim dividend.
The gambling operator said its earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation will be between £720m and £740m – about 3pc ahead of what analysts has expected.
The group said its first-half performance had been “encouraging”, with rpfoit before tax remaining unchanged at £2.1m as revenues fell 11pc to £1.6bn.
Chief executive Shay Segev said:
Given the unprecedented trading environment, GVC has delivered an encouraging performance in the first half, underlining the strength of our diversified business model and the expertise, adaptability and dedication of our people.
GVC said its strong online performance and the reopening of sporting events leaves it “well placed” for the rest of the year.
But its board decided not to pay an interim dividend, blaming “continuing uncertainty around further lockdowns and restrictions as a result of Covid-19”.
Goodbody’s Gavin Kelleher said GVC’s peformance remains “very encouraging”. adding:
While we accept there is some uncertainty given the HMRC investigation, we do not believe this should overshadow the strong operational performance the group continues to deliver.
Bulb pays out £1.8m over compliance failures
Energy supplier Bulb has paid out £1.76m in redress, refunds and goodwill payments after failing to comply with regulatory standards.
The group – which focuses on renewable energy – failed to comply with Ofgem’s rules in three separate areas between 2017 and 2020, which affected around 61,000 customers, the regulator said.
These included overcharging some customers, accidentally removing some “vulnerable” customers and also preventing some people from switching to Bulb due to incorrect supplier submissions.
Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley said:
Bulb overcharged some customers, and risked leaving vulnerable customers without access to essential network services, when they failed to comply with Ofgem’s rules.
Our rules are designed to protect consumers, and suppliers must make sure they have the processes in place to comply with them if they are going to give their customers good service.
Bulb has since put things right with affected customers and put processes in place to make sure it can meet Ofgem’s rules.
Truss welcomes tariff relief
Trade secretary Liz Truss says she welcomes a decision by the US not to slap tariffs on gin and blended whisky, and to take off tariffs on shortbread, as trade talks continue.
Her additional demands – including for single malt whisky to lose its tariffs – come as it looks increasingly unlikely that US–UK negotiators will be able to strike a deal before the US presidential election.
Last night, the US raised the pressure on France and Germany by announcing tariffs on some of both country’s goods. The new tariffs apply to products such as jams and certain knives. At the same time, it lifted certain UK and Greek tariffs.
TUI swings to heavy loss
Travel giant Tui has received €1.2bn (£1.1bn) in state aid from the German government to help it survive the winter after revenue plunged 98pc in the third quarter.
My colleague Simon Foy reports:
The former FTSE 100 operator said with the new loans, which add to state-backed loans it has already received, the company will have cash and available facilities of £2.2bn.
It comes as the pandemic continues to hammer the travel industry, with a spike in cases in Europe in recent weeks leading to fears of fresh travel restrictions that keep demand depressed.
The world's largest package tour operator swung to a massive €1.45bn loss for the three months to the end of June, as revenues plunged 98.5pc to €71.8m.
The company came to a standstill for most of the quarter, but partially resumed operations since mid-May.
Agenda: US rally stalls
Good morning. The FTSE 100 is set to open in the red ahead of US weekly jobless claims later this afternoon. Investors are expecting a modest downtrend to continue.
There are also concerns that US lawmakers may not agree to a fresh stimulus deal any time soon.
5 things to start your day
1) Pubs and restaurant sales halve in first month back after lockdown: The stark figures came as nightclub bosses wrote to culture minister Oliver Dowden demanding clarity over when they will be allowed to reopen venues, warning that continued uncertainty could risk the loss of thousands of jobs.
2) Business chiefs seek most corporate-friendly Budget in history to save stricken economy: Chief executives and lobby groups have said that Rishi Sunak's autumn Budget must be the most corporate-friendly in history to stave off total disaster.
3) A third of Brits hit by internet outages amid shift to remote working: New research from Uswitch suggested that more than 20m adults in the UK had experienced an outage in the past 12 months, whilst 4.8m Britons had not been able to get online for at least three hours due to power-cuts, broadband issues or routine maintenance on cables.
4) Media mogul Sumner Redstone dies aged 97: The US mogul was responsible for transforming his father's drive-in chain National Amusements into a sprawling empire that now encompasses Viacom, Paramount Pictures, CBS and MTV.
5) Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has called on a top scientist to share his evidence linking an Aberdeen coronavirus outbreak to customers in pubs. The outspoken pub chain chairman took aim at Aberdeen University’s bacteriology professor Hugh Pennington, who said a recent outbreak in the Scottish city was tied to transmission among drinkers.
What happened overnight
Stocks in Asia Pacific have dug their way out of a hole for the year as the global market recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continues to grind higher.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 0.6pc to 171.31, set to erase its year-to-date loss after the S&P 500 Index closed just shy of a record high. The measure has surged 41pc from its March low, led by energy and materials shares as investors bet on a recovery in business activity amid the gradual lifting of lockdowns across the region. Utilities and financials have underperformed in the period.
The Asian index has rebounded after a sell-off that erased almost $6 trillion of its market value, thanks in no small part to a rally in Chinese shares that ranks among the best in the world.
While optimism about the path of the pandemic has helped US shares approach new highs, enthusiasm in Asia has been more restrained as a resurgence of the virus in several countries in the region puts theories of a quick turnaround in corporate earnings to the test.
The Asia Pacific gauge remains more than 8pc below the all-time high it set in January 2018. It continues to lag the S&P 500, which is up 4.6pc this year, helped by a rally in technology shares. The European benchmark has lagged far behind, and is still down about 10pc in 2020.
Coming up today
Interim results: 4imprint, Coats Group, GVC, Helios Towers, Just Group, National Express
Full-year: Renishaw, Watches of Switzerland
Trading statement: Tui
Economics: Rics housing survey (UK); inflation (Germany); unemployment (France); jobless claims (US)