Morning Financial Press Review
Paul Kettle
AM Press Round-Up -3 min read
07:02, 9th August 2019

Below are the key morning press headlines, featuring the The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail & more - see the full Press section here.

Cineworld Group (CINE) FOLLOW said admissions fell in the first half of the year, as the box-office hit Avengers: Endgame failed to make up for a weaker overall line-up of films. The company reported a fall of more than 14% in cinema-going in the first half, from 158.8m to 136m year-on-year. The drop in admissions meant the chain, which became the world’s second largest by number of screens after its $3.6bn (£2.95bn) takeover of the US movie theatre group Regal last year, also reported a significant fall in first-half revenues and profits. Revenues fell 11% to $2.1bn and pre-tax profits dropped almost 13% to $140m. The company said it expected the weaker performance because the three biggest films of 2018 – Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – were all released in the first half making for a tough year-on-year comparison. Anthony Bloom, the chair of Cineworld, said: “As expected, revenue was softer on a comparative basis for the first half of the year due to the difference in timing of major releases.”

Burford Capital (BUR) FOLLOW has accused a US hedge fund of making “false and misleading” claims that wiped more than £1bn off its value, and warned the accusations could amount to market manipulation. Burford issued a nine-page rebuttal on Thursday after its shares plunged 65% over a 24-hour period. The stock had been hammered after the hedge fund Muddy Waters took a short position on its stock and publicly accused Burford of misleading investors through murky accounting.  The firm also held a conference call for investors in an effort to quash concerns over its financial position. Its concerted defence helped shares recover some of their losses, which closed up 26% at 760p per share on Thursday, valuing the business at £1.6bn and clawing back around £300m from the earlier rout. A strongly worded letter by Burford Capital said the Muddy Waters report was “false and misleading,” and full of “factual inaccuracies, simple analytical errors and selective use of information”.

Aviva (AV.) FOLLOW is considering selling its Asian business amid a major overhaul of the group. Chief executive Maurice Tulloch, who took over in March, also said Aviva has cut costs by an average of £2.7 million per week. The Asian arm, which comprises operations in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, could be worth more than £1.7 billion, according to reports. A sale would follow in the footsteps of rival Prudential, which is splitting off its UK arm to focus on operations in Asia and the US. Aviva will reveal more details at an investor day in November. Tulloch said: ‘Our Asian operations are strategically and financially attractive.  ‘However, we are evaluating a range of options to enhance the value of the businesses to shareholders. I’ve taken this role to change Aviva. I want Aviva to be a simpler company. Work has started apace.’

The founders of Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) FOLLOW are to share an £80million dividend bonanza as the fund supermarket battles the biggest crisis in its history. Brexit supporter Peter Hargreaves and his former business partner Steve Lansdown – both billionaires – will benefit from a full-year dividend of 42p per share. Hargreaves will receive £64million from his 152.6m shares, while Lansdown will pocket £18.5million from his 44.1m. Almost 300,000 of their customers are still blocked from accessing nest eggs they invested in Neil Woodford’s Equity Income fund, because there is not enough cash to pay for withdrawals. Hargreaves Lansdown was one of Woodford’s biggest champions, encouraging clients to invest through a best buy list right up until the fund was suspended on June 3. It is not expected to reopen until December

Profits at Savills (SVS) FOLLOW dipped in the first half of the year as the property agent was buffetted by uncertainty over Brexit and the political turbulence in Hong Kong. The company sold 13% fewer homes in the UK than in the same period last year after the market slowed to its most sluggish rate since the financial crisis, while fees from commercial deals fell 7%. Pro-democracy protests have cooled investor appetite for commercial property in Hong Kong, where Savills controls more than a third of the market, sending investment volumes in the city tumbling by 34%. Profits fell 7% to £25m in the six months to June despite a 16% rise in revenues to £874m. Mark Ridley, chief executive, said: “We believe commercial investment volumes will increase over time as the fundamentals of the UK market are very strong.”

One of the co-founders of Funding Circle (FCH) FOLLOW is to step down from running the peer-to-peer lender’s UK arm a year after its disastrous flotation. James Meekings, the company’s UK managing director, will take up a non-executive role by the end of next month, Funding Circle said. Mr Meekings, 36, made £16.2 million when Funding Circle floated last September at 440p. The company’s share price has subsequently plummeted by about 75%. His departure was revealed as the company said turnover rose to £81.4 million in the six months to June 30, up 29% on the same period last year. However, pre-tax losses widened to £30.8 million, up from £27.1 million in the first half of 2018.

Lower commodity prices knocked profit at Roman Abramovich’s steel company in the first half of the year. Evraz (EVR)  FOLLOW reported a 3.2% per cent drop in revenues to $6.1 billion as higher sales volumes failed to offset the impact of the lower commodity prices. Earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation fell by 22% to $1.5 billion, which the company said was mostly due to “lower prices for vanadium, semi-finished and construction products, as well as higher prices for raw materials”. Mr Abramovich owns just under 29% of Evraz. Alexander Frolov, chief executive, said the results were “rather healthy . . . supported by positive trends in our key product markets”. He highlighted an increase in consumption of its products in Russia due to a recovery in construction activity. He said the group expected markets to be “volatile” in the second half of the year.

AO World (AO.) FOLLOW  has launched a mobile phone business that it claims will undercut its rivals on price, heaping further pressure on Dixons Carphone (DC.)FOLLOW  . AO World struck a deal to buy online-only Mobile Phones Direct last November for £38.1 million as part of its plan to expand beyond fridges and washing machines. Nine months later, the company has launched a website which sells a Samsung A10 handset for £24 a month or an iPhone Xs for £55 a month with contracts on O2, Vodafone and EE. Its previous phone offer was limited to just handsets, without data packages or other services. “We’ve built AO Mobile for today’s world,” said John Roberts, the founder and chief executive. “Customers tell us that they find buying mobile and connectivity complicated . . . we’re making it easy to choose what’s best for them with easy-to-understand pricing and fantastic service.”

Disclaimer & Declaration of Interest

The information, investment views and recommendations in this article are provided for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell any financial product relating to any companies under discussion or to engage in or refrain from doing so or engaging in any other transaction. Any opinions or comments are made to the best of the knowledge and belief of the writer but no responsibility is accepted for actions based on such opinions or comments. Vox Markets may receive payment from companies mentioned for enhanced profiling or publication presence. The writer may or may not hold investments in the companies under discussion.

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