Updates from Morrisons and Home Retail Group

A small decline for the FTSE 100 yesterday; the big board ended Wednesday almost 30 points down at 6,481. Prudential was the biggest climber, up +9.33%, following a strong rise in operating profits. The biggest loser was Standard Chartered, down -3.77%.

Overnight, Asian stocks were under more pressure though the Nikkei is up +1.16%.
We start with Morrisons and on two fronts. First, preliminary results for the year to the start of February. Turnover climbs +3% to £18.1bn though the crucial like-for-like sales are down -2.1%. Underlying profits before tax slide -4% to £901m. Earnings per share are maintained at 26.7p.

The big news though is that Morrisons is in talks with Ocado that would enable the Northern grocer to - finally - enter the online retail fray. Morrisons' decision to enter the online grocery market is not dependent on the outcome of these discussions, it claims, and adds there is no certainty agreement will be reached - yet.

"Although this has been a difficult year in trading terms for Morrisons," says chairman Sir Ian Gibson, "as we struggled to grow sales in a tough consumer environment, we have delivered a 7% improvement in underlying earnings per share and announced a 10% dividend increase, in line with our previously stated policy.

Talking of Ocado, the home delivery operator has released an update for the 12 weeks to 24 February. Gross sales climb +14.4% to £185m while average orders per week are up +12%. Average order size has climbed +2.2% to almost £118 it says.

Ocado shares, currently at 137.40p, look in far better health compared to their 56p November low, though they're still substantially under their 180p float price sticker.

"We maintained the momentum in sales growth," says chief exec Tim Steiner, "and new customer acquisition with which we entered the year. Further improvements to the proposition to customers that we are making this year should enhance our appeal to shoppers and enable us to continue this momentum."

Lastly, Home Retail Group, owner of Argos and Homebase, has released an end-of-year trading update. Argos like-for-like sales for the 26 weeks up to 2 March climbs +3.2% to £2,245m while sale climb to £3,931m for the full year, up +2.1%.

Homebase like-for-like sales up to 2 March dip -3.2% to £644m however and are down almost -5% for the full year, to £1,431m. Chief exec Terry Duddy acknowledged that 2012 had been a challenging year for the group.

"Group benchmark profit before tax now expected to be around £90m, and our net cash position increasing by approximately £200m to around £395m. Against a backdrop of subdued consumer spending for the new financial year, we will continue to invest."

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