FTSE 250 pension and retirement specialist adviser Just Group(LSE: JUST) has struggled in recent months but is back with a flourish, its share price up 2.37% at time of writing on publication of its results for the year to 31 December.
The £1.3bn company, created in 2016 by the merger of advisory firms Just Retirement and Partnership, was previously hit by a dip in equity release lifetime mortgage sales, despite a booming overall market. Today group CEO Rodney Cook reported a 35% increase in operating profit, "driven by our focus on profit over volume and by our relentless pursuit of merger synergies".
Statutory net profit rose 4.73% to £155m year-on-year, while new business profit of £170m was up 37% on 2016. New business margins hit 9%, up from 6.8%, reflecting pricing discipline and merger synergies. Just is also working on improving its capital structure and financial flexibility, arranging a new banking facility, putting its new investment grade credit rating to work, and issuing a £230m Tier 3 bond on attractive terms, boosting its capital strength.
The board proposed a final dividend up 6% to 2.55p, making 3.72p of total dividends for the year, also up 6%. Cook said this reflects the group's confidence for 2018. I am delighted by today's positive results, since I recently named it one of my top stock picks for 2018. It still trades on a forecast valuation of 9.4% for 2018, with an anticipated yield of 2.7%, covered 4.2 times.
City analysts are forecasting 20% growth in earnings per share (EPS) this year, and another 12% in 2019. The equity release and at-retirement market is growing rapidly, as the nation gets older and the state struggles to keep up. A good home for your money.
Bricks and mortar
International real estate advisor Savills(LSE: SVS) has issued its preliminary 2017 finals today and a share price rise of just 0.36% suggests markets are satisfied, if hardly ecstatic.
Today saw plenty of positives, including an 11% increase in group revenue to £1.6bn, and a 3.5% rise in underlying profit to £140.5m. The total dividend for the year rose 4% to 30.2p per share. Savills benefited from a resilient performance by its UK residential business, strong commercial markets and its geographical diversity, with an international network of more than 600 offices generating 61% of its revenues.
It also reported a solid start to 2018 then dampened expectations by saying that these positive results must be set against "the backdrop of heightened market uncertainty, geopolitical risks and rising interest rates". It warned of a tempering of strong recent transaction volumes in some markets but at this early stage, its expectations for 2018 remain unchanged. Given this proviso, maybe you would be prefer to spread your bets with these two investment trusts.
Economic and political uncertainty is a worry for every business, but property is particularly exposed after the strong rises of recent years. Today's figures show underlying growth declining to 5% to 75.8p, while the City is pencilling in 2% for 2018 and 6% for 2019, solid but slower than before. The forecast yield is 3.2%, covered 2.3 times. A forward valuation is 13.6 times earnings seems fair. Savills' prospects look solid, if not spectacular.
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Harvey Jones has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.