Updates from Halfords and United Utilities

The FTSE 100 climbed more than 36 points yesterday to reach 6,840.2. Miner Antofagasta saw the steepest push higher, up +3.94%, thanks to rising copper prices while British Sky Broadcasting fell by -2.44%.

But the Dow Jones was down 80 points at 15,307. Overnight, poor Chinese data ravaged the Nikkei 225, plunging more than -6.0%. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
First off this morning, Halfords. Retail sales still look tough with sales climbing by just +1% to £871.3m up to the end of March, up 0.3% on a like-for-like basis. Underlying Group earnings after deductions were £78.1m in contrast with £97.2m in 2012. Profit before tax was £71m - a 25% dip.

"The Autocentres performance," says Matt Davies, chief exec, "was satisfactory against a backdrop of a declining market and particular challenges in the fleet sector. The fall in Group profitability however illustrates the pressing need for sustainable revenue growth."

Halfords is pushing for a final dividend of 9.1 pence per share, a cut of 35% on 2012 (14p). It says it plans to spend £100m a year on revamping stores and putting more cash behind its digital infrastructure.

Next, waste and water operator United Utilities. Revenues climb by £71m to £1.636bn up to the end of March thanks to a regulated price increase for 2012/13 of 5.8% nominal (0.6% real price increase plus 5.2% RPI inflation). This was partially offset by reduced volumes and the impact of customers switching to meters, United said.

Underlying operating profit increased by £13m to £607 million. Underlying profit before taxation was up 8%, at £354m. This was a result of higher underlying operating profit, coupled with a lower underlying net finance expense due to lower RPI inflation.

The total dividend per share climbs to 34.3p compared to 32p last year. "We intend to continue with our dividend policy of targeting 2% per annum growth above the rate of RPI inflation through to at least 2015, underpinned by a robust capital structure."

Finally, Dairy Crest Group claims adjusted profit before tax is up +7% to £50.6 million with year-end net debt down -82% to £60m. There's a post year-end £40 million cash contribution to the pension fund, cutting exposure and the proposed final dividend is up +2%.

"The sale of our French spreads business," says boss Mark Allen, "and subsequent restructuring of our balance sheet has strengthened our financial position and leaves us well placed to invest for growth in the UK, either internally or through acquisitions."

Recently Dairy Crest rival Arla took a key Starbucks milk supply contract from Dairy Crest - it's thought Starbucks' annual milk needs are around 12m litres. Starbucks claimed part of the move was because Arla was a co-operative.
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