Updates from FirstGroup and Marston's

Adrian Holliday

The FTSE 100 took a -1% blow yesterday to 6,495.5, down a total of 68 points. The travel industry - Ebola anxiety and more geo-political tension - took most of the unease with BA owner IAG plummeting almost 7% to 345p. easyJet shares were also pummelled, down 5.32% to 1389p. On the more positive side, Tesco shares lifted 3.31% to 182.60p.

But the US saw the biggest shares fall by some margin with the Dow Jones taking a 1.60% punch. It ended Tuesday at 16,719 - a 272-point drop.

We commence with a trading update from FirstGroup (looking certain to lose - see below - its ScotRail franchise to Abellio). Trading for the first half was in line with management expectations it claims.

For UK Bus there was revenue growth and margin improvement while UK Rail saw "robust" passenger revenue growth and stronger operating performance.

"Despite the variable trading conditions across our markets," says chief exec Tim O'Toole, "we are confident that our financial performance will continue to improve during the second half and for the full year."

O'Toole claims losing the ScotRail franchise will not alter the Group's medium-term targets.

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More Ebola Screening Possible for United States
More Ebola Screening Possible for United States

Next, a year-end trading update from Marston's and expects to report underlying operating profit broadly in line with expectations. In Destination and Premium, like-for-like sales were 3.1% ahead of the previous year including food like-for-like sales growth of 3.3%.

Operating margin is also ahead. In Taverns, like-for-like sales climbed 2.1%. Its franchise business - 540 sites total - continues to perform strongly, Marston's claims.

"We remain on track," says chief exec Ralph Findlay, "to complete the majority of this disposal and conversion activity by the end of financial year 2015, creating a pub estate appropriate to meet the needs of our customers in the long-term."

Lastly, it looks likely that Abellio will grab the £2.5bn ScotRail franchise from FirstGroup. The contract will run for 10 years involving 5,000 Scottish workers.

Abellio is part-owned by Netherlands Railways though the shortlist includes bids from National Express, MTR and Arriva.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash told the Guardian, "that just a few weeks after the referendum, and promises from all quarters that the Scottish people would have an increased say in every aspect of their lives, that the continued privatisation of Scotland's railways has been bulldozed through."

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