Pick of the early market news

Disappointing results from Next and other retailers helped tip the FTSE 100 0.6% lower yesterday; it finished the day at 5,668 points. Oil and utilities stocks proved resilient with both BP and United Utilities seeing modest rises. Across the channel, the French Cac 40 saw a -1.59% slip while the German Dax fell -0.89%. The Dow Jones was up 0.17% at 12,418 at close of business.
Let's commence with an Xmas trading update from JJB Sports. Group like-for-like sales for the four weeks up to 26 December increased 5% and like-for-like cash gross margins increased 6% - results in line with company expectations, it claims.

The company says cumulative like-for-like sales in the second half of its financial year slipped 7.8% compared to a 17.7% decrease in the first half (the 26 weeks ended 31 July 2011) of the financial year.

"Our overall trading has improved in the second half of the financial year," says JJB Sports boss Keith Jones. "Looking ahead, the ongoing credit squeeze on consumers and weaker UK employment numbers creates a tough environment. We continue to implement our turnaround aware of the importance of the periods of the January sales, European football championships and London Olympics".

Next, civil engineering player Costain Group. It says it finished the year in line with expectations, with an increased forward order book worth £2.5 billion (2010: £2.4 billion), which included in excess of £650 million of work secured for 2012 and more than £1.8 billion of revenue secured for 2013 and beyond.

Banking facilities have been increased by £30 million to £465 million and extended by two years to September 2015. "These facilities ensure the Group has the necessary financial resources to capitalise on market opportunities as they arise and achieve its medium term objectives," Costain says.

Lastly, cosmetics and personal care player PZ Cussons says it has snapped up the Fudge hair care brand for £25.5m from Australian-based Sabre Group. The cash deal will be completed by the end of January PZ Cussons claims.

"The acquisition of Fudge further strengthens our newly formed beauty division and broadens its category participation," says PZ Cussons boss Alex Kanellis. "The geographic and distribution footprint of Fudge is a perfect fit with the current brand portfolio and we see further opportunity to develop the brand's international potential."

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