Updates from Morrisons, Next and Royal Mail

A small lift for the FTSE 100 yesterday, up 4.4 points to 6,588. ARM Holdings was the Board's biggest lifter yesterday, up +4.84% to 986.50p. However Admiral Group shares fell -4.14%, despite a recent Buy rating from investors (Bank of America).

However the Dow Jones leapt +0.89% last night to 15,326, up almost 136 points.

We start with news of Royal Mail. The Government has approved notice to the London Stock Exchange to prepare for a Royal Mail privatisation in the next few weeks, following a Royal Mail board meeting last night.

The sale process is likely to last up to six weeks. There's still uncertainty about just how much of Royal Mail will be privatised. Royal Mail chief exec Moya Greene is to meet union reps at a meeting later today in Birmingham in an attempt to avoid a strike in the Christmas run-up.

It's likely the world's oldest mail service could be valued at up to £3bn. The Government will confirm today how much the public will be able to invest in the operation, as well as clarify what dividends shareholders may be able to expect.

Next, Morrisons. In a half-year update to 4 August Morrisons confirms underlying profits slump -10% to £401m while like-for-like store sales slip -1.6%. Underlying earnings per share are down -2% to 12.86p (2012/13: 13.09p)

Profit before tax is down to £344m (2012/13: £440m) while the interim dividend is up +10% to 3.84p (2012/13: 3.49p). Morrisons confirms that their planned online operation is still scheduled to come onstream in January.

"By the end of the year," chief exec Dalton Philips says, "we will have 100 M local convenience stores, around half of which will be in London and the South East, and we've secured a new distribution centre in Bury to support our convenience stores in the North."

Finally, an update on Next sales for the half year to July. Sales were +2.2% ahead of last year, driven by a combination of additional retail selling space and increased online sales. Operating profits climb to the top end of expectations, up +7.2%.

Strong cash generation enabled Next to buy back a further £170m of our shares which, together with a lower tax rate, resulted in earnings per share growing much faster than profits. Pre-tax earnings per share were up +14.0%.

New store profitability is forecast to be +22%. Payback on net capital invested is expected to be 19 months. "Next Brand full price sales were up +3.9%," says the company. "We went into Sale with 18% less stock than last year and markdown sales were consequently 13% down on last year."