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Ian Pollard – More headwinds, volatility, weak & challenging markets and footfall

Next plc NXT First half full price sales were up +4.5% on last year,. ahead of the +1.0% guidance given in January and the +2.2% given in May and even coming as a surprise to Next itself which admits that its performance was flattered by the unusually warm summer. The reality is that the market is still volatile and those headwinds continue to batter retailers in General. The even harsher truth is that over the past 10 years retail sales have fallen by 10% in whilst like-for-like sales are down by 32%. Next even admits that it does not know  what the high street will look like in 10 years’ time which means that future will involve a constant process of reinvention and experimentation in the hope that somewhere along the line, it will get things right.

Imperial Brands IMB updates that the business is performing well with the tobacco business delivering a much stronger second half and volumes for the full year outperforming the industry. Revenue growth will remain in line with previous guidance.

Card Factory plc CARD describes its interim results for the half year to 31st July as “solid”. Online sales growth was strong but like for like sales fell by 3.1%  hit by the usual disasters of a weak consumer environment, particularly challenging footfalls across the high street and those dreaded headwinds the effects of which are being mitigated through improved efficiency.Profit before tax and basic earnings per share grew by 17.2% and 17.1% respectively and the shareholders are of course being looked after with a special dividend of 5p per share on top of the maintained ordinary dividend of 2.9p.

Harvey Nash Group HVN has now substantially completed its transformation programme and despite a weaker market, produced a robust performance in the half year to the 31st July. Gross profit rose by 7.2% and on a like for like basis was even stronger with a rise of 11.1%. Profit before tax increased by 19.2% and earnings per share by 22.6%.  The interim dividend is to be increased by 6.5% to 1.75p per share. All this, says the CEO, achieved in a challenging market with the UK business delivering a a robust performance and Vietnam performing strongly.

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Ian Pollard – Harvey Nash #HVN – “Core” Blimey

Harvey Nash HVN Preliminary results show that a record “core” performance was delivered during the year to 31st January, which actually saw profit before tax down by 37.!%, earnings per share nearly halved with a fall of 45.5% and the final dividend increased by 5%. The CEO says these were excellent results which were ahead of expectations, provided only you look at the “core” figures which ignore non recurring items and the cost of office closures. Without these the transformation of the company is proving to be a huge success Looking at it that way profit before tax rose by 24.4% and earnings per share by 29.3%. The UK and Ireland produced robust growth and market share gains and Benelux and the Nordics delivered strong organic growth. In the Rest of the World operating profit rose from £0.2m to £0.9m although gross profit fell by 11.9%.

As for the present, the company is encouraged by the strong trading momentum in the second half  which is continuing into the current year.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group RBS updates that income in the quarter to the 31st March rose by 2.8% whilst costs fell by 2.1%. Attributable profit was well on its way to tripling with a rise from £259m. to £792m and basic earnings per share did triple from 2.2p per share a year ago to 6.6p this year. Operating profit before tax rose from £713m. to £1,213m

Computacenter plc CCC The quarter to the 31st March was better than expected with group revenue rising by 19% excluding a one off software sale of £34m in the UK which would have taken it up to 23%. The company sees no reason why the current positive market conditions should not continue in the near term,

Nexus Infrastructure Services NEXS For the half year to the 31st March both revenue and operating profit were ahead of last year.The order book was up by 33% year on year and the company retains its very strong market position.

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WPP Currency Tailwinds Add Over 10% Growth.

WPP plc WPP produced another record year in 2016 helped by huge favourable exchange rate movements, especially in the second half. Without these, the strength was much less pronounced. Reported billings rose by 16% but at constant currency rates the rise was reduced to 5.5% and on a like for like basis it was down to 3.3%. Growth in revenue  varied from a rise of 17.6%  to an actual fall of 7% in Yen. Overall 10.4% revenue growth was due to currency movements. Profit before tax rose by 26.7% but in constant currency terms fell to 12.5%. Dividends for the year have also been increased by 26.7% at 56.6p per share, which means that the target pay out of 50p per share has been reached a year ahead of schedule.

2017 has started slowly with January producing a like for like rise in revenue of only 1.5% due to what are described as tepid economic growth and weaker new business trends. The growth target for 2017 has  been set at 2%.

London Stock Exchange LSE proposes to increase its final dividend by 20% after a strong financial performance for the year to 31st December. Income rose by 17% and adjusted profit before tax and earnings per share both grew by 21%

Harvey Nash HVN claims resilient  trading for the year to the end of January despite gross profit falling by 1% on a constant currency basis. Brexit is blamed for holding back growth in the UK & Ireland, whilst the Rest of the World faced challenging market conditions in Hong Kong and Offshore Services were hit by the weakness of Sterling, leading to a fall of 7% in gross profit. Only Mainland Europe helped to save the day with growth of 8% ( 4% at constant currency rates.)

Gear4music G4M Sales for the year to the 28th February were well ahead of expectations with a rise of 58%. Europe and the Rest of the World led the way with a rise of 124%. Profits are expected to be marginally ahead of expectations.

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Not Again – More Unspecified “Challenging Conditions”

More and more Boards and CEOs seem to be waking up to the fact that if they claim to be operating in “challenging conditions” it makes their performance and governance, good or bad, look even better than it really is. What they forget is that some of us, perhaps even some shareholders, would like to know what these challenges actually were but generally they remain a well kept secret. If they were so serious that they affected the company’s performance and results, surely shareholder have a right to have details as to exactly what the challenges were which their company management was too clueless to overcome.

Wood Group WG. still expects that full year 2016 EBITA will be about 20% down on 2015 but it still expects to increase dividends per share by 10% or more. It has found that the North Sea operating environment has been very challenging for both volume and pricing but the International business performance has been robust.

Stobart Group STOB intends to increase the level and frequency of  dividend payments as from October when a quarterly dividend will be paid. Stobart exp[ects that this will be at the rate of 3p per share on top of which share buybacks and special dividends will occur as circumstances permit.

Harvey Nash HVN has increased gross profit by 8% in the first four months of the current financial year despite challenging conditions. Significantly the UK was the worst performer with zero growth while mainland Europe from which we have just decided to divorce, came up with 11%, the USA with 24% and Asia Pacific with 5%.  Uncertain times lay ahead says the company. With the irresponsible and fairly clueless political leaders who claim to govern both the UK and the EU, that should come as no surprise.

Vianet VNET Despite economic uncertainty which the company finds unhelpful, trading in the first 2 months of the current financial year is noticeably ahead of last year.

AA plc AA has agreed to sell its Irish business for £156.6m

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Lloyds Claims “Robust” Profits Fall & “Operating Jaws” Success

Lloyds Bank LLOY claims to have delivered a robust first quarter performance with underlying profit down 6% and statutory profit before tax down by  46% – you can’t get more robust than that. And then just to illustrate  how banks are prepared to show their teeth when necessary it does not seek to hide the fact that it achieved positive operating jaws of 1 per cent. Well,from a bank, what else would you expect – once bitten, twice shy.

Taylor Wimpey TW claims it has performed well so far in 2016 with customer demand up by 14%. Average private net reservations per outlet have risen to 0.80 from 0.76 and the total order book is up by 16.6% on a year ago and 21.9% from the beginning of this year. further help has come in the form of a fall in the build cost inflation rate which it is anticipated will be between 3-4% for the rest of the year. As ever the main prop to the market continues to be mortgage availability.

Pendragon PDG on the other hand is not so happy with prospects for the rest of the year. Registrations for year to 31st March grew by 5.1% but that growth rate is expected to halve to 2.5% for the remainder of 2016. Pendragon’s underlying profit before tax rose by 8.7% for the period from 1st January to 27th April. Gross profit from new car sales led the way with  like for like rise of 15.2% but this is not expected to continue for the rest of the year  as growth in the new vehicle market will moderate.

Harvey Nash HVN is increasing its final dividend by 8.7% for the year to 31st January as preliminary results show an increase of 13% in profit before tax and 18% in earnings per share. revenue for theb year grew by 5%. Strong growth in the USA produced a 25% rise in gross profits there and Germany and Sweden were both good performers, although held back by those currency headwinds (such as the fall in sterling ??).  The UK on the other hand was weak with business confidence falling, the economy slowing and Brexit creating those dreadful things called fears.

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