FTSE LIVE: ‘Super Thursday’ as Tesco, Boohoo, Primark and more update investors in busy session

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series of major companies publish trading updates and results today, giving a detailed picture of how corporates across all sectors of the UK economy have fared through the pandemic.

The Standard’s City team are crunching the numbers and reading the smallprint.

Live updates

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British Gas halts customer exodus

The owner of British Gas has put the brakes on the number of customers choosing to leave the energy supplier in the last six months.

Centrica announced that it still has around 6.9 million energy customers in the UK, the same level as it reported in July last year.

It slows a major outflow from the company, which has been haemorrhaging customers for years. In the first six months of 2020, for instance, Centrica lost more than 250,000 UK energy supply customers.

The company gave further cheer to investors by saying it expects to beat market expectations.

Analysts who follow the company expect it to make 4.8p per share in adjusted earnings from continuing and discontinued operations.

Centrica did not reveal how much higher than the consensus it expects its earnings to reach, but it was still enough to help boost shares by 2.9%.

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Halfords climbs to record Christmas

Soaring cycle sales helped Halfords climb its best-ever Christmas week but new lockdown restrictions could dent fourth-quarter performance.

Demand for ebikes and escooters lifted cycle purchases up by more than a third (35.4%) but the collapse in traffic on the roads saw revenues in its motoring arm crash 8.4%.

The group,  which can stay open as an essential retailer, reported total group revenue climbing 11.7% in its third-quarter trading update to January 1 with same-store sales up 9.8 per cent.

Chief executive Graham Stapleton said: “We are pleased to have delivered a strong performance under hugely challenging circumstances, including our best-ever Christmas week.”

The company said it was still reviewing whether pay back money saved from the business rates holiday for despite other retailers including Tesco, B&M and Lidl all agreeing to pay their rates bills in full.

“Although we currently anticipate a less severe impact on motoring demand relative to the spring lockdown, the cycling market is seasonally smaller during the fourth quarter and may not fully offset the impact on motoring,” the group said.

Shares rose 4.6% or 12.8p to 290.30p in early trading.

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Red-letter day for Card Factory

Card Factory today said it is in “constructive discussions” with its banks after seeing sales decimated by the impact of mandatory store closures.

The greetings card retailer lost more than a third of its available trading days in the 11 months to December 31, resulting in a 38% slide in store sales.

With outlets shut again in the current lockdown, it expects to rack up a loss of £10 million once its financial year completes later this month.

The Wakefield-based group is confident that its existing £200 million banking facility will be sufficient for short-term needs, as long as the lockdown impacting non-essential retailers does not go beyond the end of April.

It has reduced debt by almost £30 million to £90 million, and while lending covenants will be breached at the end of January it says discussions with its banks are constructive.

Online channels continue to trade well, with like-for-like sales up 137% on a year earlier.

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Sandwich-maker Bakkavor sees WFH sales slip

Supermarket sandwich-supplier Bakkavor today said that in the year to December 26 revenues were down 4.9% on the prior year, as food-to-go sale volumes were hit by commuters working from home.  

The firm -which makes sandwiches, ready meals, salads and desserts for major supermarket chains including M&S, Waitrose and Tesco – saw UK LFL sales 5.3% lower than in 2019.  

It said that its forward planning has “minimised disruption to our business and our supply chain continues to operate effectively” post-Brexit, despite new red tape leading to major delays in the fresh food import and export sector since January 1.  

But the firm warned that it is still “early days”.  

Boss Agust Gudmundsson said the company had “delivered a strong and resilient performance” in unprecedented times in 2020.  

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We’re all playing the blues..

Online musical instruments retailer  Gear4Music has said it expects to report full-year results ahead of expectations.  

( Andrew Wass / Gear4Music )

The AIM-listed firm said that is following a “very  successful Christmas trading period, and early indications of positive trading post-Brexit”.

In the three months  to December 31 sales rose  30% to £52.2 million.

Chief executive Andrew Wass said: “Strong growth during the period has been driven by products that can be used and played at home, including guitars, keyboards and home recording equipment.”

He added: “We know many of our customers are looking forward to rehearsing and performing together again, and as social distancing restrictions are eased, we expect our live sound, drums and orchestral categories to return to stronger growth.”

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Hays says New Year ‘back to work’ hires sees income recover

Recruitment firm Hays says the plunge in its fee income seems to be slowing, mercifully.

Fees in the final quarter of 2021 at the international employment giant were down 19% against 29% in the previous three months with the picture improving through the period.

CEO Alistair Cox said the key “back to work” New Year hiring period would be key to its recovery.

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Warehouse owner sees healthy December

LondonMetric Property provided yet more proof that warehouses are the place to be in commercial property.  

The group specialising in providing storage space for online retailers said it collected 98% of rents for the December quarter and month, with a further 1% due imminently.

Proof of the old adage – follow the money…

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Smartphone app to help Covid tests

Sensyne Health has a natty little app for smartphones that should help Covid testing staff read more accurately the results of lateral flow tests.

The MagnifEye app uses “deep machine learning AI”, we’re told, and will be offered to the lateral flow test makers.  

Lateral flow tests are used for many types of diseases.

Sensyne is run by biotech entrepreneur Sir Paul Drayson, who has a strong following among smallcap retail investors.

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888 ups profit guidance as punters bet their way through lockdown

Online gaming outfit 888 says it saw record numbers of punters in December so its profits are now going to be stronger than it previously guided the market.

Looks like people stuck at home in lockdowns love a flutter.

The group warns that there are “possible headwinds” in the coming months with the uncertainty over the economy plus changing regulations on gambling in certain countries.  

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Taylor Wimpey sees big jump in orders

Taylor Wimpey today described the outlook for the UK housing market as  “robust” after joining rival Persimmon in reporting a big jump in its order book.

And despite the current lockdown restrictions, the housebuilding giant said interest in its properties had remained positive.

The company added in a trading update: “Throughout 2020 we were encouraged by the continued resilience of the UK housing market, underpinned by low interest rates and strong customer demand.”

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