The FTSE 100 is flat in early trading. Among the companies with reports and trading updates today are Sainsbury’s, Barratt Developments, Redrow, PZ Cussons and Grainger. Read the Wednesday 7 February Business Live blog below.
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Barratt boasts strong foundations with Redrow purchase
Mark Crouch, analyst at eToro:
‘Despite a challenging macroeconomic environment for housebuilders, 2023 saw Barratt’s share price jump 30% and this morning the firm stated that demand for their homes remains strong, seeing early signs of improvement in both reservation rates and buyer sentiment in 2024.
‘Sticky UK inflation means that interest rate cuts could be a while away yet, dampening investor optimism and further slowing an already stifled housing market. However this doesn’t seem to be impeding Barratt’s strategy, with the UK homebuilder set to buy rival Redrow in a £2.5bn deal, an encouraging sign for investors.
‘House prices fell 2% on average last year but when you consider prices rose 10% in 2022, the impact of higher rates is likely set to continue. Barratt’s decision to cut their dividend at the end of the year feels like a sensible move.
‘With growing uncertainty looming over the sector, the UK’s largest housebuilder has over £1bn of cash on hand, so shoring up an already strong balance sheet will put the company in a stronger position to weather any further storms, and, with the purchase of Redrow, potentially capitalise from them.’
Barratt buys Redrow amid signs housing market recovery ‘is under way’
Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets, Hargreaves Lansdown:
‘The economic winds have not been kind to the housebuilders and Barratt Developments and Redrow clearly believe they’ll be stronger together, giving the new combined company much bigger clout to capitalise on the structural need for housing in the UK.
‘Redrow’s board of directors intend to unanimously recommend that shareholders vote in favour of the £2.52 billion deal, which would give them 32.8% of the combined group, with Barratt shareholders holding 67.2%.
‘The new group will be renamed as Barratt Redrow, and the move is expected to produce around £90 million in savings in operating costs of the two companies annually by the end of the third year.
‘Redrow’s share price has struggled to regain its pre-pandemic form and with Barratt enjoying a strong balance sheet and hefty cash reserves it clearly decided the time was right to make a move. Clearly market conditions are still going to be tougher while interest rates stay elevated.
‘However, the latest signs are that recovery is underway, with the Halifax house price index pointing to renewed sentiment among buyers, as better mortgage deals have landed.
‘Barratt has also seen early signs in both reservations rates and buyer sentiment, so there are hopes that the industry is now turning a corner, but there is still a risk demand could fizzle out again. However, with a shortage of homes in great swathes of the UK being pushed up politicians’ priority lists, there is considerable long-term opportunity for a beefed up housebuilder.’
Marks & Spencer set to overtake Waitrose: Middle classes flocking back to High St stalwart
Marks & Spencer is poised to overtake Waitrose as it wins over growing numbers of middle class shoppers.
In the latest sign the High Street retailer has got its mojo back, industry group Nielsen yesterday said it is neck and neck with Waitrose, with each holding 3.8 per cent of the market.
It marked a major change of fortunes for the two Middle England favourites. In 2021, Waitrose held a 4.2 per cent share of the market and M&S just 3.2 per cent.
NatWest told to hire new chief exec as Government prepares to sell part of its 35% stake
Natwest has been urged to provide ‘clarity’ about its next chief executive ahead of a public share sale, which could come as soon as June.
The state-backed lender is led by Paul Thwaite, who was appointed as interim boss for a 12-month term last July after Dame Alison Rose had to quit as a result of a de-banking scandal involving former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
PZ Cussons hammered by Nigerian naira losses
PZ Cussons has slashed profit expectations and its interim dividend after swinging to a loss in the first half on the back of currency devaluation in Nigeria.
The maker of Imperial Leather soap and Carex expects adjusted profit before tax of £55million to £60million for the year to 31 May.
PZ Cussons posted a statutory operating loss of £89.7million for the first half, compared to a £39.2million profit during the same period the previous year.
The company announced an interim dividend of 1.5p per share, compared with 2.67p last year.
Chief executive Jonathan Myers said: ‘The most significant challenge we have faced by far has been the devaluation of the Nigerian Naira, which is today around 70% weaker than a year ago, representing the biggest drop in the currency’s history.
‘As we set out in September 2023, macroeconomic developments in Nigeria would be the key determinant of the FY24 results.
‘Whilst we continue to make good progress in managing this volatility, the further devaluation in recent weeks will inevitably impact our FY24 results. As a Board, we have taken the prudent step to reduce the interim dividend in light of the devaluation.’
Barratt to buy rival Redrow
Barratt Developments is set to buy Redrow in an all-share deal that values its smaller British housebuilding rival at just over £2.5billion.
The deal will see each Redrow shareholder receive 1.44 new Barratt shares for each Redrow share, Barratt said in a statement.
Immediately following the completion of the transaction, Redrow shareholders will hold about 32.8 per cent of the combined Group and Barratt shareholders will hold about 67.2 per cent.
Barratt boss David Thomas said: ‘We have great respect for Redrow, its overall strategy, its leadership and employees, and its high-quality homes and communities.
This is an exciting opportunity to bring together two highly complementary companies, creating an exceptional homebuilder in terms of quality, service and sustainability, able to build more of the high-quality homes this country needs.
‘The Combined Group would leverage the respective strengths of both Barratt and Redrow, delivering significant benefits to our people, our supply chains, and – most importantly – our customers.’
Cut stamp duty now! Hunt should tackle the tax wrecking the housing market, says JEFF PRESTRIDGE
Sainsbury’s eyes £1bn of savings
Sainsbury’s has set a new cost savings target of £1billion over three years so the supermarket group can finance both better prices and higher pay for its workers.
Updating on strategy, the group also committed to a progressive dividend policy from the start of its 2024/25 year and the commencement of a share buyback programme, with £200million of share capital to be bought back in 2024/25.
CEO Simon Roberts said: ‘Our Food First strategy has delivered on its promise over the last three years, making Sainsbury’s a stronger business with a much sharper position on value and a major refocus on our innovation. Customers have recognised the progress we’ve made, as our market share gains have shown.
‘Our Next Level Sainsbury’s strategy is about giving customers more of what they come to Sainsbury’s for – outstanding value, unbeatable quality food and great service. Thanks to our scale, our brand and our people, we are in a unique position to deliver for customers across Sainsburys, Argos and Nectar.’