News Column

Markets week Healthy news for FTSE

May 3, 2014

Nick Fletcher

The FTSE 100 hit its highest level for nearly nine weeks, supported by a cocktail of takeovers, positive company updates and an improving global economy.

Even growing tensions in Ukraine failed to dampen investor enthusiasm too much.

The healthcare sector again dominated the bid news, with AstraZeneca in focus as predator Pfizer raised its offer from pounds 46.61 a share to pounds 50 but still found its advances rejected. AstraZeneca, which started the week at pounds 40.80, closed yesterday at pounds 48.08, down 7p on the day.

Shire, which on Thursday reported a 40% rise in first quarter earnings, found itself the centre of a number of takeover tales. It was variously said to be a target for Botox maker Allergan - as a defence against an unwanted bid from Valeant Pharmaceuticals - or AstraZeneca itself. Shire added 17p to pounds 34.67.

In Europe, France'sAlstom was in the sights of GE of America and Siemens of Germany. The latter meanwhile agreed to buy the energy business of Rolls-Royce, down 14p at pounds 10.26.

Heritage Oil agreed to be taken over by a Qatari investment fund for pounds 924m or 320p a share. Heritage, whose main oil production is in Nigeria, closed at 314.6p yesterday, down 0.4p.

The FTSE 100 finished yesterday at 6822.42, up 13.55 points on the day and about 137 points on the week. This was its highest level since 4 March. On the economic front there were positive UK GDP figures showing growth of 0.8% in the first three months of the year, as well as a purchasing managers survey showing manufacturing at a five-month high. In the US, the non-farm payroll figures showed 288,000 jobs were added in April, much better than expected.

Among companies reporting Royal Bank of Scotland rose 25.1p to 331.7p yesterday after first quarter profits rose to pounds 1.6bn from pounds 826m a year ago. Lloyds Banking Group, up 0.12p at 79.62p, also pleased the City on Thursday with news that it planned to float its TSB business in eight weeks, as it reported a 22% rise in first quarter profits.

InterContinental Hotels was 166p higher at pounds 21.90 following news of a $750m (pounds 540m) return to shareholders and a 6% rise in first quarter revenue per available room, a key indicator. It said current trading gave it confidence for the rest of the year. Analysts said it had another $1bn or so of property that could be sold and the proceeds returned to investors.

Housebuilders were supported by a positive note from Citigroup. Barratt Developments was 6.6p better at 375p while Redrow rose 13.6p to 305p and Taylor Wimpey added 3.3p to 108.6p.

But supermarkets fell back as Morrisons, down 1.3p to 196.2p, fired the first shots in a price war, cutting the cost of 1,200 products by an average 17%. J Sainsbury, which reports full year results on Wednesday, lost 3.8p to 321.3p while Tesco fell 1.05p to 285.5p.

Outsourcing group Serco had a tumultuous week as new chief executive Rupert Soames began work. It issued its second profit warning since January, announced the departure of finance director Andrew Jenner and announced a pounds 160m placing at 320p a share to bolster its balance sheet. Its shares closed at 353.4p, up 13.4p on the day but down 50p on the week. Analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald repeated their sell rating, saying: "There is a real possibility that we will see more 'kitchen sinking' and possibly further cash calls."

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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