Updates from Northgate, Aviva and Unite Group

Adrian Holliday
savings, tax, stockmarket, pensions, cash, investment FTSE 100, Northgate, Friends LIfe
savings, tax, stockmarket, pensions, cash, investment FTSE 100, Northgate, Friends LIfe

Monday saw a 66-point drop for the FTSE 100 - the biggest one-day slump for six weeks - not helped by the on-going slide in oil prices. TullowOil and Carnival saw the biggest losses, down 6% and 4.5% (to 400.50p and 2692p) while AberdeenAsset Management saw the biggest push north, up 1.7% to 457.50p.

Stateside, the Dow Jones tumbled more than 50 points to 17,776.8 after another bout of weak Chinese data; weaker-than-expected Thanksgiving retail sales also disappointed.

We start with a half-year update from commercial van player Northgate. The company claims a 49% increase in underlying profit before tax to £47.8m (2013 - £32.0m) plus a 70% increase in pre-tax profit to £46.7m (2013 - £27.4m);

A 56% hike in underlying basic earnings per share to 28.6p (2013 - 18.3p) is claimed. Northgate says its seen vehicle on hire growth of 1,800 in the UK since 30 April. The closing fleet numbers climb to 57,000 in the UK (April 2014 - 53,900) and 40,000 in Spain (April 2014 - 37,800).

"We are pleased by the growth delivered by the Group in the first six months of the year," says chairman Bob Mackenzie. "This reflects the work done in recent years...our plans to open new sites in the UK are on track."

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Next, Aviva and Friends Life say they've reached agreement on the terms of a recommended all-share buy-up. Holders of Friends Life Shares will receive 0.74 Aviva Shares for each Friends Life Share.

The acquisition values each Friends Life Share at 370p - a premium of 8% on the closing price of 343p per Friends Life Share on 20 November. The merger should supply, the two companies claim, £225 million of synergies by end of 2017.

The deal gives Aviva a "stronger dividend flow and balance sheet position than would otherwise have been possible," says Aviva chairman John McFarlane. "It also offers Friends Life Shareholders an attractive outcome."

Finally, student accommodation operator Unite Group Studentssays it has received planning approval for the development of a one-acre site in Aberdeen. Completion of the site is expected in time for the 2016/17 academic year providing accommodation for nearly 400 students.

The scheme is expected to have a development cost of £20 million and deliver a development yield in line with Group target levels. The site is being bought from Aberdeen City Council, currently occupied by a derelict, listed school building.

"Causewayend [site name]... will help to strengthen our relationships," says Richard Simpson from Unite Students, "with University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University and meet the accommodation demands of Aberdeen's growing student population, whilst contributing to the regeneration of the area."

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