Well, that’s all from us for today. Louis Ashworth will be back bright and early.
Here’s a quick recap of today…
Interim results: Ferrexpo, Hastings, Hill & Smith, IP Group, Legal & General, Metro Bank, Morgan Sindall, PageGroup, Segro, William Hill
Economics: New car registrations (UK); services PMI final (UK, China, eurozone, US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain); ADP employment, trade balance (US)
The FTSE 100 found itself in a tug-of-war today as share-price shifts for some of London’s biggest companies left the blue-chip bourse in a state of equilibrium.
At the end of the trading session, Europe’s major equity benchmarks showed modest gains while the Dax underperformed.
London’s benchmark index ended 0.05pc higher to 6,036 while the FTSE 250 jumped 0.73pc to 17,283.25.
Home Office to drop ‘racist’ algorithm used in visa approval system
A “racist” algorithm used by the Home Office to make decisions on visa applications has been dropped after campaigners warned that it acted like a “speedy boarding for white people.”
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and digital rights group Foxglove launched a legal challenge against the technology which they said “entrenched racism and bias” into the visa process.
The algorithm, which had been used by the Home Office since 2015, worked by automatically assigning each person with a green, amber or red rating based on the information provided in their visa application.
Foxglove alleged that the Home Office kept a “secret list of suspect nationalities” which would automatically be given a red rating.
Read Michael Cogley’s full article here
Gold in touching distance of $2,000 per ounce
Ed Moya of OANDA writes: “Gold is catching fire again on stimulus bets, some dollar weakness, and as risky assets get a boost on improving economic data and improving virus outlook. Gold is now the favorite safe-haven as Treasury yields continue to slide.”
Hargreaves Lansdown may face Woodfund fund legal action
Hargreaves Lansdown could be faced with legal action from investors of the now-collapsed Woodford Equity Income Fund.
Lawyers on behalf of the investors have said they lost “millions of pounds” from investing in the fund, which was previously featured in Hargreaves Lansdown’s “best buy” list.
The fund was shut down in June after a rush of investor redemptions and concern about its high level of investment in illiquid holdings.
The fund’s supervisor Link Fund Solutions could also be the target of legal action, according to law firm Slater and Gordon, which is considering the action.
Karolina Kupczyk, a group litigation lawyer at the law firm, said: “We now believe there’s a case for Hargreaves to answer.”
There only a few minutes left until the European close, and it looks like the FTSE will have locked in a pretty flat performance. It’s time for me to hand over to my colleague LaToya Harding, who will steer the blog into the evening. Thanks for following along today!
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US factory orders continue to recover
New orders at US manufacturers continued to recover during June, but remain below their pre-virus trajectory.
Overall factory orders rose 6.2pc, while durable goods orders jumped 7.6pc.
Ford chief exits as carmaker battles Covid crisis
Ford is shaking up its management with chief executive Jim Hackett resigning and being replaced by chief operating Jim Farley as the company battles the electric revolution and coronavirus’s impact on car industry.
My colleague Alan Tovey reports:
Mr Hackett was a surprise announcement for the top job at Ford in 2017, with no experience in the car industry and having previously led an office furniture business.
He will retire from Ford on October with Mr Farley taking the wheel at the business which last year launched a massive restructuring that entailed cutting 12,000 staff – one in five of the workforce – across its loss-making European arm.
Mr Hackett took control of Ford with it seen as a laggard in the race to develop electric vehicles and new technology such as self-driving vehicles. In the past few years it has hoped to catch up with rivals, including development of the Mustang Mach-E, an electric car which is intended to breathe new life into one of the company’s most famous marques.
Announcing the change of leadership, chairman Bill Ford said: “I am very grateful to Jim Hackett for all he has done to modernise Ford and prepare us to compete and win in the future.”
Wall Street opens slightly lower
US stocks have opened in the red a raft of poor earnings highlighted the continuing hit from the pandemic.
European Commission to probe Google-Fitbit takeover
The European Commission announced it will carry out a full-scale investigation into Google’s $2.1bn (£1.6bn) takeover of fitness tracker maker Fitbit.
The announcement was made after the EC carried out a preliminary review.
It said the tech giant’s offer not to use health data from Fitbit for advertisement targeting was insufficient.
The Commission said:
The commission is concerned that the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalisation of the ads it serves and displays.
Google said it was “confident” the deal would still get the go-ahead.
BT shares jump after analyst praise
The FTSE 100’s returned to being flat, after toying with slight gains just after midday. BT is now the biggest riser on the index, after Berenberg raised their outlook on its shares.
In a note to clients, analyst Carl Murdock-Smith wrote that sentiment about the telecoms group is “on its knees”, but added that the pain was likely to be temporary, writing:
We have previously stated a preference for “whatever weather winners”, without significant exposure to externalities. BT is not in this category. However, given its significant underperformance and scope for improved sentiment over the next year, we make an exception.
It was a busy morning for corporate news – here’s a round-up of some of the biggest stories:
Melrose shares lifted by debt waiver
Melrose Industries, which bought GKN last year in a bitter £8bn takeover, has done a deal with its lenders to give it breathing space on it debt.
My colleague Alan Tovey reports:
The FTSE 100 company has got a further extension of a waiver on net debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) covenant to June 2021. The ratio of net debt to ebitda charges before financing charges is also being raised from 2.5 times currently, to 3 times until December 31, before eventually rising to 4 times through to December 2022.
The changes cover Melrose’s primary borrowing arrangements of a £3.2bn revolving credit facility repayable in January 2023 and a £900m loan that can be extended to April 2024.
The company said the new terms give it “the flexibility it needs to continue to focus on cash generation and adapting the group to current market conditions”.
Its GKN business – which makes aircraft and automotive parts – has been hit hard by the downturn caused by the pandemic, and Melrose has warned job cuts are “inevitable”. Its interim dividend is also not being paid.
Argentina breaks deadlock over $65bn debt restructuring
Argentina has finally broken the deadlock in talks with international creditors, striking a deal to restructure its huge $65bn (£50bn) pile of sovereign debt.
My colleague Tom Rees reports:
The country’s bonds rallied after Argentina claimed the deal reached with three creditor groups will provide “significant debt relief” following months of negotiations.
The South American country suffered a ninth default in May, and needed to restructure its debt even before Covid-19 dealt its moribund economy another blow.
Before the pandemic hit, Argentina struggled to cope with a deep recession, surging inflation and the peso’s collapse.
The breakthrough will push back maturities on the debt by several years, and reports shortly before the deal was reached said the offer’s value was close to 55 cents on the dollar.
IWG sees jump in suburban office space demand
Flexible office provider IWG says it is seeing a boom in demand for office space in the suburbs as coronavirus accelerates a major shift in working life.
My colleague Rachel Millard reports:
The FTSE 250 group, which owns brands such as Regus and Basepoint Business Centres, reported a 3.5pc increase in revenue to £1.3bn during the six months to the end of June, with a strong first quarter helping balance out a difficult second quarter.
It swung to a £176m loss, compared to a £30.5m profit for the same period last year.
IWG is planning to shut some centres to help it get through the coronavirus pandemic and other pressures, and has set aside £126.7m for the costs of doing so.
With employers hesitant to force workers to commute to squashed city centre offices, more businesses are setting up satellite offices on the outskirts of cities such as Manchester, London and Birmingham.
Chief executive Mark Dixon said demand had increased by as much as 30pc.
“Many companies are moving wholesale to decentralised working,” he said. “Where we have some difficulty is in major metropolitan centres.
“There are enough available buildings; if not we will build. There is a real move to people wanting to work closer to where they live, but not at home.”
Dixons Carphone plans 800 jobs cuts
Dixons Carphone has become the latest UK company to announce job cuts, with 800 roles to be shed as it restructures its store management.
In a statement, the retailer said:
As a result of the proposed changes, Dixons Carphone plans to introduce new Sales Manager, Customer Experience Manager and Operational Excellence Manager roles to stores, while removing the Retail Manager, Assistant Manager and Team Leader roles. The retailer is also proposing to remove Business Advisor roles in stores without a Business Hub.
These changes would result in an overall reduction of 800 roles. In addition, there will also be opportunities for colleagues to join the team behind ShopLive, the personal shopping service that provides consumer and business customers with expert advice from home via video link.
Mark Allsop, its chief operating officer, added:
Sadly, this proposal means we have now entered into consultation with some of our store colleagues. This was not an easy decision and we’ll do everything possible to look after those colleagues we can’t find new roles for, financially and otherwise.
AA shares jump as suitors circle
Shares in roadside assistance group AA have popped higher this morning, after revealing it is in talks with three suitors over a potential takeover.
The group has received interest from Platinum Equity Advisors and Warburg Pincus International, as well as a joint offer from Centerbridge Partners Europe and TowerBrook Capital Partners.
AA said the suitors “have each indicated that any possible offer would involve a significant amount of new equity capital being injected into the group, in order to reduce indebtedness following completion”.
Its debts stood at £2.65bn at the end of 2019. The company says paying down the pile is a “key priority”, and is mulling a range of options to do so including possibly raising new equity.
John Leach, its chairman, said:
The AA is a high quality and robust business, with an iconic brand, a resilient business model and a highly committed and loyal workforce.
However, in order for us to be able to achieve our full potential, the Board believes that it must now prioritise reducing the Group’s indebtedness to provide the business with the right long-term capital structure – which we hope the current refinancing process will achieve.
CMA clears Amazon’s Deliveroo investment
The Competition & Markets authority has cleared Amazon to take a 16pc stake in food delivery service Deliveroo following an extended investigation, after “finding that it will not substantially lessen competition”.
The watchdog launched an in-depth Phase 2 investigation after Deliveroo raised concerns that Covid-19 could push it to collapse. The CMA has initially cautioned the investment, which is worth around £440m, may harm competition in the food delivery sector.
In its decision, published today, the CMA said:
The CMA’s assessment has focused on how a 16pc shareholding held by Amazon would affect its incentives to compete independently with Deliveroo in both restaurant delivery and online convenience grocery delivery in the coming years…
The CMA ultimately found that this level of investment will not substantially lessen competition in either market. However, if Amazon were to acquire a greater level of control over Deliveroo – through, for example, acquiring a controlling interest in the company – this could trigger a further investigation by the CMA.
‘Czech Spinx’ raises Royal Mail stake further
Daniel Kretinsky, the billionaire known as the Czech Sphinx, has upped his stake in Royal Mail again, bringing him close to being the struggling postal company’s top shareholder.
According to a filing published today, Mr Kretinsky vehicle Vesa holds 13.1pc of voting right in the group, compared to 12.1pc previously – a stake worth around £121m.
Here are some of the day’s top stories from the Telegraph Money team:
The FTSE 100 has shaken off the worst of the morning’s drops, and is now trading flat again. Diageo has pulled up slightly over the past hour, while BP’s strong share performance appears to be boosting rival Shell, providing some upwards thrust to the index.
Bank of England feels heat over polluter bond purchases
The Bank of England has been criticised by green campaigners after an analysis of its corporate bond-buying scheme showed it is disproportionately supporting polluting industries.
Bloomberg has more details:
The central bank’s 20 billion pound ($26 billion) Corporate Bond Purchase Scheme favors carbon intensive industries such as energy production and manufacturing, according to a report led by the New Economics Foundation on Tuesday…
So far, the bond program has pumped 11.4 billion pounds of new money into the dirtiest sectors, though they offer marginal contributions to the UK economy, the report said. Around 57% of the value of the bonds purchased are from the most carbon intensive sectors, but they only represent 13.8% of overall employment and contribute 19% to gross value added.
Approximately 57% of the value of the bonds purchased by the Bank are from the most carbon intensive sectors, but they only represent 13.8% of overall UK employment and contribute 19% to GVA (a metric used to measure the economic contribution of different sectors).
— Frank van Lerven (@Frank_vanlerven) August 4, 2020
Total Covid-19 support costs at £92bn, employment support passes £40bn
The latest figures for the Government’s spending on schemes to support businesses through Covid-19 have reached £92bn, with employment support alone passing £40bn.
Here’s a breakdown of the numbers by scheme:
PizzaExpress plans closures with 1,100 jobs at risk
PizzaExpress has announced plans to close scores of locations, as its Chinese owner finally reached an agreement with bondholders over a plan to save the restaurant chain.
The company announced the agreement of a restructuring plan aimed at lowering the group’s debt pile and shoring up its finances, including a £114m cash injection from bondholders.
Under the plans, which have been backed by top shareholder Hony Capital, bondholders are likely to take control of the Italian restaurant chain.
PizzaExpress said it will launch a CVA in the “near future” that may “regrettably result” in the permanent closure of around 15pc of its restaurants – putting up to 1,100 jobs at risk.”
In a statement, the company said:
Although the Covid-19 crisis has been a huge setback for the entire casual dining sector, PizzaExpress has consistently demonstrated its resilience, and this restructuring will put the business on a stronger financial footing in the new socially distanced environment.
Group chief financial officer Andy Pellington said:
As we continue to reopen our restaurants for dine in and delivery, we will successfully navigate the extended period of social distancing expected in the months ahead and, in so doing, protect 9,000 jobs. The initial signs from the restaurants that have been reopened have been very encouraging and we hope that our loyal customers continue to support us now more than ever.
Pizza Express is proposing the closure of around 67 of its 449 restaurants as the pandemic hits sales. The move will put around 1,100 jobs at risk. Its Chinese owners, Hony Capital, have now put Pizza Express up for sale with bankers from Lazard hired to help find a buyer.
— Hannah Uttley (@huttleyjourno) August 4, 2020
Diageo drags down FTSE 100
The FTSE 100 has dropped into the red despite a strong open this morning, with Diageo putting the biggest drag on the blue-chip index. The alcohol producer is off almost 7pc, easily outweighing BP’s jump – which followed better-than-expected results for the oil giant.
Spectris falls despite beating expectations
Testing and measurement equipment-maker Spectris is one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 250 today, despite reinstating its dividend.
The group posted sales of £599m for the first-half, narrowly beating consensus expectations despite a 21pc fall, while profit before tax dropped 47.7pc to £40.4m.
It saw a decline in sales across all regions, with Asia seeing the biggest hit despite its trading in China returning to growth during the second quarter. Its metals, minerals and mining and academic research divisions were hit hardest, with smaller falls in pharmaceutical and machine manufacturing.
Chief executive Andrew Heath said:
Whilst the backdrop has altered, it has provided new opportunities to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient. We will continue to focus on what we can control – investing in our business to deliver growth, implementing costs initiatives to drive operating margin expansion and optimising the portfolio to deliver long-term value to our shareholders.
Stifel’s Mark Davies Jones said the group’s performance in the second-half – when it usually makes the bigger chunk of its profits – will be crucial.
Babcock scraps dividend as profit slump
Defence engineer Babcock has scrapped its final dividend after profits sank due to Covid-19.
In a trade update, the FTSE 250 group – which counts the Ministry of Defence as its biggest client – said its underlying operating profit fell 40pc during the first quarter compared to 2019.
It said new safety procedures prompted by the pandemic have had a “significant impact” on costs and efficiency, hitting the group’s margins.
Blaming continued uncertainty, its scrapped its final dividend, a move which it said would support its efforts to reduce its debt pile.
Ruth Carnie, its chair, said:
We continue to deliver critical programmes for our customers but our financial performance is being impacted by the challenges created by COVID-19. Given the continued uncertainty over the impacts of the pandemic, we are not giving detailed financial guidance for the year at this stage…
We recognise the importance of dividends to our shareholders and we will resume dividend payments at the earliest opportunity.
David Lockwood will join the group as chief executive officer-designate late this month, and will replace Archie Bethel as CEO in mid-September.
Direct Line raises dividend despite profit hit
Insurer Direct Line has bumped its dividend slightly higher, despite a fall in profits during the first half of the year.
The FTSE 250 group will payout 7.4p per share to investors, versus last year’s 7.2pc.
Its profit before tax fell 9.5pc in the six months to the end of June, to £236.4m, after a narrow fall in its number of in-force policies.
During the period, over 10,000 travel insurance customers have been given refunds, and over 300,000 motor customers have either received refunds or been offered payment deferrals.
Chief executive Penny James said:
Despite the significant disruption caused by Covid-19 we have continued the trading momentum we saw at the end of 2019, growing direct own brands by 2pc and improving the quality of our earnings with an improved current-year loss ratio.
We have also demonstrated financial resilience in the face of Covid-19 disruption, which has enabled us to declare our 2020 interim dividend as well as a catch-up of our cancelled 2019 final dividend.
Chairman Mike Biggs steps down as Direct Line’s chief executive today, and will be replaced by Danuta Gray.
FTSE opens flat
The FTSE 100 has opened totally flat, despite rises for its continental peers, which are building on yesterday’s solid gains.
Diageo profits cut in half by virus hit
Full-year profits at alcoholic drinks giant Diageo were cut in half by the pandemic, falling 52pc to just over £2bn.
Covid-19 presented “significant challenges” for the FTSE 100 group, with UK sales knocked by the cancellation of events during the spring and early summer.
Overall, reported net sales fell 8.7pc to £11.8bn, with growth in North America more than offset by falls elsewhere.
Ivan Menezes, its chief executive, said:
Fiscal 20 was a year of two halves: after good, consistent performance in the first half of fiscal 20, the outbreak of Covid-19 presented significant challenges for our business, impacting the full year performance. Through these challenging times we have acted quickly to protect our people and our business, and to support our customers, partners and communities…
While the trajectory of the recovery is uncertain, with volatility expected to continue into fiscal 21, I am confident in our strategy, the resilience of our business and am very proud of the way our people have responded. We are well-positioned to emerge stronger.
Diageo maintained its final dividend at 42.27p per share, bringing payouts for the full year to 69.88p per share, a 2pc rise.
Jefferies’ Edward Mundy said the outlook for Diageo is “murky”, adding its share price could come under heavy pressure if it is later forced to revise profit expectations.
BP cuts dividend for first time in a decade
BP has slashed its dividend for the first time in a decade after falling to a record loss in the second quarter as the pandemic hammered energy demand.
My colleague Simon Foy reports:
The company halved its payout to 5.25 cents from 10.5 cents – its first cut since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
It came as the oil titan slumped $6.7bn into the red under its preferred measure of underlying replacement cost loss, which was slightly better than the $6.8bn that analysts had predicted.
On a pre-tax basis, it swung to a £21.6bn loss in the second quarter after writing down the value of its oil and gas exploration assets in the wake of a virus-induced slump in the price of oil.
Bernard Looney, BP’s chief executive, said: “These headline results have been driven by another very challenging quarter, but also by the deliberate steps we have taken as we continue to reimagine energy and reinvent BP.”
EasyJet made just £7m in revenue over latest quarter
Revenue at budget carrier easyJet virtually vanished during the most recent quarter, with the group taking in just £7m, versus £1.7bn over the same period in 2019.
The drop pulled the group to a headline loss before tax of £324.5m for the period, flipping from a £174.2m profit last year. The group said it is now expanding operations to run more flights than usual in the face of high demand.
It carried 117,000 customers in the 132,000 available seats during the final two weeks of June which closed out its third quarter. During that fortnight, it ran a predominantly domestic flight schedule focused on the UK, France and Italy – it plans to expand to 210 lines of flying this month.
In July, its load factor rose to 84pc, with over 2m customers flying.
Johan Lundgren, its chief executive, said:
Our bookings for the remainder of the summer are performing better than expected and as a result we have decided to expand our schedule over the fourth quarter to fly c.40% of capacity. This increased flying will allow us to connect even more customers to family or friends and to take the breaks they have worked hard for.
Despite the challenge we continue to face due to the pandemic, we remain no less committed to fulfilling our customers’ desire to fly sustainably through our carbon reduction initiatives, including offsetting on behalf of our customers.
Agenda: Stocks set to rise
Good morning. European equities are set to start the day in the green, following US and Asian markets, amid hopes of more stimulus in the US.
The White House was said to be exploring whether President Trump can act on his own to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, while investors were also boosted by a slowdown in the rate of coronavirus cases in a number of states.
5 things to start your day
1) HSBC tries to shake off US-China tensions as profits plunge: Announcing a plunge in profits, chief executive Noel Quinn said the bank follows the law in every country where it operates and that any action by authorities against its workers would have to be assessed on a case by case basis.
2) Keeping over-50s at home for longer in a “shielding” scheme against the coronavirus could risk locking as many as 6m workers out of their jobs. The mooted plan would particularly hit those who cannot work from home, as well as cutting off key customer groups for industries including leisure and travel.
3) Virgin Galactic and Rolls-Royce join forces for ‘son of Concorde’: If successful, the company will bring air travel faster than the speed of sound back to the civilian world after it was lost with the retirement of Concorde in 2003.
4) Don’t rush to bring staff back in, employers warned: David D’Souza, membership director of the professional body for HR managers, said : “There is no clear reason for a rushed return and employers must only bring people back if it is essential to their role.
5) Housing for the elderly is not being built fast enough to meet demand from the UK’s rapidly ageing population despite surging investment, new research has warned. Knight Frank expects the number of retirement properties to rise by 10pc over the next five years to a total of 800,000 as major investment firms pump in cash.
What happened overnight
Shares advanced across Asia on Tuesday after Wall Street closed broadly higher on encouraging economic reports, starting off August by closing within 3pc of the record high it set in February.
Investors appear to be shrugging off surging coronavirus caseloads in dozens of countries.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 1.4pc to 22,505.83 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.7pc to 24,637.24. Sydney’s S&P ASX 200 jumped 1.6pc to 6,022.50 and the Kospi in Seoul picked up 1.1pc to 2,275.84. The Shanghai Composite index edged 0.1pc higher to 3,372.76.
Coming up today
Interim results: BP, Calisen, Centamin, Direct Line, IWG, Rotork, Spectris
Trading statement: Babcock
Economics: Producer price inflation (eurozone); factory orders, durable goods (US)