Updates from Marks & Spencer, Babcock and ABF

A -0.50% slip for the FTSE 100 yesterday, down -29.5 points to 5,839. The biggest gainer was Weir Group; its shares surged more than +4.5%. Eurasian Natural Resources, down -3.66%, was the biggest FTSE 100 loser yesterday.

Ahead of US voting, the Nikkei slipped -0.36% to 8,975 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng drifted -0.21% lower.
The big news this morning is a near 10% profits slump from M&S. Pre-tax profits for the six months to the end of September slip to £290m, down 9.7% from the same period in 2011. However M&S food sales climb 3.4% (or 1.1% on a like-for-like basis).

Group sales are up 0.9% to £4.7bn (greatly supported by food). Clothing and homeware like-for-like sales were down 4.3% but international sales accelerate in Q2 to +6.1%1 with strong like-for-like growth in key markets, M&S claims.

"We are pleased to report a better performance across the business in the second quarter," says chief executive Mark Bolland. "We took steps to address the short term merchandising issues in General Merchandise [clothing and homeware] and as a result, we delivered an improved performance."

Next, half year numbers from engineering support player Babcock. The company claims +7.3% organic growth in underlying revenue - excluding the effect of foreign exchange movements - with 13.3 % organic growth in underlying operating profits.

The order book rises to £12.5 billion (2011: £12 billion) and operating profit soars +16% to £108.8m. Net debt is cut to £581.1m from £678.8m a year ago and the half-year dividend increases to 6.3p from 5.7p.

"We achieved double-digit growth in underlying profit and earnings and we further strengthened our balance sheet by sustaining our track record of excellent cash conversion," said ceo Peter Rogers. "As a result, we have once again been able to increase returns to our shareholders. The strength of our order book and bid pipeline underpin our confidence in the future."

Finally, food, ingredients and retail player, Associated British Foods. The owner of Primark says Group full-year revenue climb 11% to £12.3bn with adjusted operating profit up 17% to £1,077m. Adjusted profit before tax is up 17% to £974m.

Primark's growth, in particular, increases with sales of £3.5bn, a doubling compared to five years ago, supported by new store openings in Germany.

"These are very good results for the group and include exceptional performances from AB Sugar and Primark," says chief exec George Weston. "Global economic uncertainty remains but we have opportunities for further investment and the strength of the group balance sheet and a strong cash flow will enable us to pursue them with confidence."

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