Pick of the early market news

The FTSE 100 ending Wednesday 1% down at 5,809 points. RSA Insurance Group lost -7.51% while Vedanta Resources dropped -5.52%. Whitbread however saw a 2.15% surge and Sage Group rose 1.66%.

Pessimism abounded across other bourses with the Dow Jones giving away -0.54%. Overnight in Asia, the bears have predominated again.
We start with an update from Imperial. For the second quarter, Imperial claims strong revenue and profit growth improving revenue and profit momentum. First half reported tobacco net revenues are expected to increase 3% and reported stick equivalent volumes are expected to decline 4%. "The overall financial position and operational performance of the Group for the financial year to 30 September 2012 "is in line with the Board's expectations."

Imperial will announced full half-year numbers on 1 May for the results up to the end of March. "Our performance," says Imperial, "reflects continued success across our key strategic brands Davidoff, Gauloises Blondes, West and JPS and our luxury Cuban cigar portfolio, complemented by fine cut tobacco gains and further smokeless growth."

Next, a trading update from First Group. Overall trading is in line with management expectations and the company remains on course to achieve earnings and cash targets for the year. Like-for-like passenger UK Bus revenue is expected to increase 1.5%. The combined trading outlook in the UK with action to reposition the UK Bus portfolio is expected to result in the Group's net cash flow being broadly neutral for 2012/13.

"As previously indicated," said the company in a statement, "the economic environment is presenting challenging trading conditions and performance during the year reflects the growing North-South divide with considerably lower growth rates emerging in Scotland and the North of England, where a significant portion of our urban operations are concentrated and approximately 60% of our UK Bus passenger revenue is generated."

Rail is happier. During the year the rail division delivered a stronger performance with like-for-like passenger revenue expected to increase 8.3%. "As previously indicated, 2012/13 will be a transition year for our rail division as two of our franchises approach the end of their current term and First TransPennine Express operates in the 3-year extension period with margins closer to the industry average."

We finish with home emergency business Homeserve. It expects adjusted profit before tax for the year ending 31 March 2012 to be in line with market expectations. It expects policy retention rate to be around 80% (FY11: 82.7%) "and we estimate the one-off costs related to reinvigorating our customer focus will be around £20m in FY12 as previously announced."

In the UK the company is, it claims, making progress in reinvigorating customer focus and improving controls and governance processes. "Our International businesses are continuing to make good progress, with growth in the number of customers and policies and retention rates remaining high in all markets."

In the US, Homeserve continues to expect customer numbers to increase by 15% with policies "increasing by a slightly higher rate reflecting growth in cross-selling." Gross new policy sales are expected to increase by over 25% compared to FY11.

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