January 17, 2019 / 8:44 AM / 10 months ago

British stocks shrug off politics as results from Sage, ABF drive big moves

LONDON (Reuters) - Investors in British stocks turned their focus from political to company developments on Thursday as results from software firm Sage, Primark owner ABF, and bookmaker GVC triggered big moves and weak house sales data dented shares in housebuilders.

Workers speak above an electronic information board at the London Stock Exchange in the City of London January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

The FTSE 100 .FTSE slid 0.4 percent, extending Wednesday's fall and in line with a slide in euro zone stocks, while the domestically focussed mid-cap FTSE 250 .FTMC rose 0.3 percent as sterling hit its highest since mid-November.

Financials were the biggest drag on the FTSE 100 as Europe’s banking sector sold off after weak results from Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), and investors received Prime Minister Theresa May’s win in a no-confidence vote with little fanfare.

May’s government won a vote of no confidence on Wednesday evening by 325 votes to 306, leaving her to try to break the impasse over how to leave the European Union.

“The Brexit process is no clearer after the government’s victory,” wrote David Page, senior economist at AXA Investment Managers. “Delay of some format still looks the most likely outcome.”

May has been scrambling to sound out other parties for alternative proposals that they could agree to.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday Brussels was open to the possibility of a “more ambitious” Brexit deal than the one rejected by the British parliament, but he held out no hope that it could be improved on.

ITV (ITV.L) dropped to the bottom of the FTSE, down 5.9 percent after Bank of America Merrill Lynch downgraded it to “underperform” from “buy” in a negative note on European broadcaster stocks.

Shares in the British broadcaster had their worst fall since February 2018.

EasyJet (EZJ.L) shares were down 2 percent, suffering from a downgrade from Barclays.

A faller after results was Whitbread (WTB.L), its shares down 0.7 percent after the Premier Inn owner reported weaker sales growth in its UK home market.

Overall, analysts have been very downbeat on British companies’ earnings, consistently downgrading their expectations since September.

Housebuilders Berkeley (BKGH.L), Barratt Development (BDEV.L), and Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) fell 0.5 to 1.2 percent after a survey of property valuers showed the weakest three-month outlook for UK house sales on record in December.

Software provider Sage (SGE.L) jumped 5.4 percent to its highest since August after it said it had made a strong start to its financial year thanks to software subscription growth of 27.7 percent.

Topping the risers, shares in Primark owner ABF (ABF.L) climbed 6.9 percent after it stuck to its full-year earnings guidance, reporting revenue growth in the Christmas quarter in all its businesses except sugar.

“Encouragingly, Primark continues to add ample market share in the UK, and to trade strongly in markets which represent the core of its growth opportunity over the next five years,” wrote Jefferies analysts.

GVC (GVC.L) also gained 2.1 percent after saying it expected full-year earnings to be ahead of market consensus thanks to strong growth in its online business.

“The current regulatory and competitive environment casts a continuous shadow over the sector. However, we note that GVC is already trading on around 12 times 2019 price-to-earnings ... attractive should we be entering a sustained period of earnings momentum,” wrote Davy Research analysts.

Leading the FTSE 250 was food delivery company Just Eat (JE.L), up 4.9 percent. Traders said Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock to “overweight”.

GRAPHIC: FTSE 100 earnings revisions Jan. 17 - tmsnrt.rs/2ANQHN2

Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Potter

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