Updates from Centrica, Johnson Matthey and Babcock International

Royal Mail shares plunge and there's bad news for RBS, fined £56m for IT failures

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A 12.5 point loss for the FTSE 100 on Wednesday, ending at 6,696.6. RoyalMail, by a big margin, posted the biggest hit, down more than 8.3% to 430p as investors fretted about competition concern - specifically Whistl, formerly known as TNT - and Amazon, not to mention the Royal Mail's looming Christmas performance. IntertekGroup was also a very heavy faller, down 7.7% to 2447p following margin concern. On the plus side, CRH shares surged 3% to 1408p.

Stateside, things barely budged, with the Dow down just two points to 17,685.7, its first dip this week. Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart finished 1.5% and 1.4% up.

We start with a half-year update from engineering services operator Babcock International. Underlying revenues surge 24% to £2,103.2m while operating profit climbs almost 40% to £239.5m. The half-year dividend rises 10% to 5.5p.

Good progress was made during the first half to refinance its Avincis debt - Babcock bought helicopter firm Avincis for £1.6bn - at improved rates the company claims.

The total order book for the Group increases £5bn or so to £18.5bn from the £13.5bn announced at its July interim. "The bid pipeline is supported by a number of significant opportunities in the tracking pipeline which have not yet come to market," it adds.

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Warm Winter Behind British Gas Profits Fall

We move onto sustainable chemicals player Johnson Matthey. Its six-month numbers reveal a 25% revenue plunge, from £6,411m to £4,800m. However underlying earnings per share is up 4% and the interim dividend of 18.5p is 9% higher.

Its Precious Metal Products' sales and underlying operating profit are down 10% and 30% respectively, impacted by the loss of commission revenue from Anglo Platinum.

"The group's results in the first half of 2014/15 were in line with our expectations," says the company. "In the second half we expect good underlying growth compared to the same period last year. However, this will be partly offset by the impact of the loss of commission income from Anglo Platinum."

Finally, a warm, late autumn has done little for British Gas owner Centrica. Full year adjusted earnings per share in 2014 are expected to be in the range 19-20p it says; British Gas residential post-tax margins are expected to be around 4% this year - lower than long-term expectations.

Earlier in the year it was estimated Centrica had lost around 180,000 accounts. Although the upstream business will be impacted by falling oil and gas prices, the Group still expects to deliver earnings growth in 2015 it adds.

"In addition to an expectation of a return to more normal weather conditions," it says, "we expect increased underlying profit in Direct Energy, British Gas Services and British Gas Business."

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