Updates from JD Sports and Whitbread

The FTSE 100 slipped 23 points on Monday, cutting the Big Board to 6,754.6. The London Stock Exchange Group saw the biggest downwards drift, slipping 2.39% to 1920p while BT Group was clipped 2.38% to 384.90p. Melrose Industries slumped 2.25% to 273.90p, along with Morrisons, down 2.08% to 188.30p.

The Dow Jones ended Monday up just 5.27 points at 16,781; caution was the watchword following a rise in oil prices and more Iraq concern. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
We start with an interim from JD Sports. The build-up to the World Cup has "enhanced" the trading performance of its most significant business tranche, Sports fascias, says the company in a trading update this morning.

"As a consequence," says the company, "precise like for like figures, at this stage, would be potentially misleading. However, we are certainly pleased with the underlying performance of this segment in the period to date."

JD anticipates a "satisfactory" increase in first half profitability, in line with expectations. Its Outdoor business is maintaining progress against weak prior year comparatives; Fashion continues to experience "a varied performance".

Next, Whitbread. The hotel and restaurant group says total sales growth for the first quarter climbed 12.7% with like for like sales growth of 6.9%. Premier Inn grew total sales by 14.2%; Costa's total sales climb 15.9%.

Premier Inn's total revpar growth climbed 8.8%, with 3.6% growth in London and 9.9% growth in the UK regions. Total occupancy rose by 4.2% points to 80.7%.

"We currently have 43 new Premier Inn hotels," says Whitbread, "under construction in the UK and expect to open around 4,500 new rooms this year, together with five joint site restaurants. Costa will open around 300 net new stores this year."

Finally, rental equipment player Ashtead Group says rental revenue for the fourth quarter climbs 24% to £355.7m while operating profit soars 45% to £82.6m. Earnings per share rises 55% to 9.8p. Operating profit for the full year is up 43% to £409.2m.

"It is particularly pleasing," says chief exec Geoff Drabble, "that we achieved this growth whilst also delivering on our long-stated commitments of return on investment progression, now 19% for the Group, and maintaining debt leverage below two times EBITDA."

Jefferies Group recently restated its buy rating on Ashtead Group with a 1,050p price target on the stock. Currently its share price is 887p.

JD Sports
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