Updates from Imperial Tobacco, United Utilities and Ocado

A lift for the FTSE 100: it climbed +0.35% yesterday to 5,888 points. Weir Group was the best performer, up +2.82%, while Aviva was the Board's biggest dipper, down -3.33%, followed by Admiral Group, down -1.54%.

Asian markets today slipped back on mediocre Chinese manufacturing numbers; the Japanese Nikkei finished -1.40% down while the Hang Seng sank -0.70%.
First off this morning, Imperial Tobacco. Tobacco net revenues are expected to be up by around +4% with good performances from Eastern Europe, Africa & Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions, the company claims, despite price rises.

But stick equivalent volumes are expected to decline by up to -3% due to ongoing market weakness in Ukraine (cigarette) and Poland (fine cut tobacco) plus compliance issues with international trade sanctions against Syria.

"We are making excellent progress with our key strategic brands Davidoff, Gauloises Blondes, West and JPS and expect this to be reflected in further strong volume and revenue gains from these brands which continue to represent an increasing proportion of our volumes."

Next, an update from United Utilities, the UK's biggest public trader water operator, for the six months ending 30 September 2012. Trading is in line with expectations of a positive underlying financial performance for 2012/13. Revenue is expected to be higher than last year, reflecting the regulated price increase for 2012/13 says United.

"However, as expected, this increase," the company said, "is slightly below the allowed regulated price rise, principally reflecting the ongoing impact of customers switching to meters and continued lower commercial volumes."

United was recently lifted by takeover speculation. Its share price has climbed to 727p in recent weeks (and by around 20% in the last year). Several contenders are thought to be in line, including private equity player Kohlberg Kravis Roberts plus overseas pension fund players.

Lastly, Ocado. Gross sales have climbed almost +10% to £162.6m for the 12 weeks to 5 August 2012 (2011: £147.9m). Year to date gross sales growth to the end of the third quarter was +11.3% the online retailer says. Ocado says it has been able to preserve margins during the quarter with less emphasis on short term vouchering.

Average orders per week for the 12 weeks to 5 August 2012 increased +8.6% to 120,494 from 110,945 in equivalent period in 2011. Average order size for the 12 weeks to 5 August 2012 was £112.44 (£111.08 in equivalent period in 2011). As of 5 August 2012 the Group had cash and cash equivalents of £67.1m with net debt of £83.1m.

"As expected the one-off Jubilee and Olympic events influenced ordering patterns during the period," the company said in a statement. "However the forward planning and IT solutions we undertook to prepare for these events enabled us to maintain excellent customer service."

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