Updates from Persimmon and Wetherspoon

Updated: 
Heavy retreats from RSA Insurance, down -6.27% to 121p and Persimmon, down -4.10% to 1215p, helped put the brakes on the FTSE 100 on Tuesday, down almost 17 points to 6,746. One bright spot was M&S, up +4.50% to 509p, despite disappointing newly-released clothes numbers.

The Dow Jones lost almost 21 points, ending the day at 15,618.
We start with an interim from York-based house builder Persimmon. Persimmon claims it's fully sold up for the year and has £650 million forward sales reserved beyond 2013, a +41% increase on the comparable prior year position (2012: £462 million).

The introduction of the Government sponsored Help to Buy equity loan scheme in April 2013 - only available to buyers of newly built homes - proved "particularly attractive" says the house builder. Persimmon has sold more than 3,000 homes under this scheme to date.

However Persimmon warns on affordability of the scheme as it expands: "With only a limited number of lenders involved in this second phase so far the impact to date has been muted due to the higher level of interest rates being charged."

Next, an update from JD Wetherspoon for the 13 weeks to 27 October. In the first quarter (13 weeks to 27 October 2013), like-for-like sales increased +3.7% and total sales by +7.6%. The operating margin was 8.3%, approximately 0.3% lower than the same period in the last financial year says the pubs operator.

Wetherspoon opened eight new pubs in the quarter and has 12 more under development. It anticipates opening 40 to 50 pubs in total this year, slightly more than previously anticipated it said in a statement.

"In spite of the continued pressure from costs and taxes," [the company particularly emphasised the VAT disparity between supermarkets and pubs] "the company remains confident of a reasonable outcome for the current financial year."

Lastly, a half-year update from FirstGroup. Trading remains in line with management's expectations, despite continued headwinds in some markets says the company with revenues climbing +1.6% to £3,300.7m. Operating profit climbs +10.1% to £109.9m.

In terms of Rail, revenue growth is described as "solid". For First Transit there's continued growth in renewals and new business, particularly in shuttle and paratransit, with margin performance maintained claims FirstGroup.

"Although it is early days in our multi-year plan to improve our returns," says chief exec Tim O'Toole, "resilience and growth prospects, we are seeing clear indications that we are making progress."