Updates from Wetherspoon, WH Smith and Sage

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The FTSE 100 slipped just 2.5 points yesterday, ending Tuesday at 6,834. Miners took the biggest hits overall with Rio Tinto down -3.13% at 3231.50p and Antofagasta -3.02% lower, to 819.50p. But Primark owner Associated British Foods saw a +4.23% leap.

The Dow Jones ended 44 points down at 16,414 following some earnings weakness.


We kick off with a WH Smith trading update for the 20 weeks to 18 January 2014. WH Smith claim "a good profit performance" for the period with margins "well managed" and costs "tightly controlled" across both its businesses.

But total sales were down 4% with like-for-like (LFL) sales also 4% down for the 20 weeks. In Travel, total sales were up 2% with LFL sales down 1%. High Street total sales slipped 7% with like-for-like sales down 6%.

Further to its announcement on 10 October 2013, WH Smith says it will return up to £50m of cash to shareholders via a share buyback programme. As of 21 January 2014, it has purchased 1.6 million shares at an average price of £9.57.

Next, a pre-close update from Wetherspoon. For the first 12 weeks of the second quarter (to 19 January 2014), like-for-like sales increased 6.7% and total sales soared 10.6%. Year to date (25 weeks to 19 January 2014), like-for-like sales increased 5.2% and total sales 9.0%.

Wetherspoon - it has just opened its first pub at a motorway service station on the M40, causing some controversy - expects its operating margin for the half year ending 26 January 2014 to be around 8.1%, 0.2% lower than the same period last year due to increased IT, training and staff investment.

"We now estimate," it says, "an operating margin in the region of 8.1% to 8.3% for this financial year, assuming that we achieve reasonable sales growth." It also anticipate a slightly higher corporation tax rate for this financial year, at 27%.

Finally, an interim from Sage Group. Trading across all regions remains in line with expectations with Europe, UK & Ireland delivering "a good performance" with legislative change being a key driver it says. In Europe, an improved performance in the second half of 2013 was maintained.

"This represents a resilient performance given market conditions in France and Spain continue to make the execution of larger IT projects in the mid-market more difficult in those countries." Sage claims its Group operating cash generation remains strong.

Since the year-end, a further 5.7m shares have been repurchased for £19.1m. "We remain on course," says boss Guy Berruyer, "to deliver on our 6% organic revenue growth target in 2015, and anticipate making further progress during the year ahead."