What to watch: Halfords profits double, UK inflation up, RSA takeover

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·4 min read
A social distancing sign is pictured in a Halfords store, after the government announced a new plan on walking and cycling projects, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Luton, Britain July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra
A social distancing sign is pictured in a Halfords store. Photo: REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Here are some of the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

Halfords profits double on soaring bike use

Halfords (HFD.L) saw its profits more than double in the six months to the start of October, as demand for cycling equipment and repair services boomed during the pandemic. Its shares leapt 6% in early trading on Wednesday.

The retailer said in its interim financial results that its like-for-like revenues had risen 6.7% in the first half of its financial year to £638.9m ($849m). It posted underlying profits of £56m, up 116.2% on the same period a year earlier, despite the challenges of the virus including limited shopper numbers in stores.

Halfords shares on the London Stock Exchange rose in early trading on 18 November. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK
Halfords shares on the London Stock Exchange rose in early trading on 18 November. Chart: Yahoo Finance UK

Halfords has been able to remain open throughout the pandemic as it is classed as an essential retailer.

“In cycling, we expect good levels of demand to continue, notwithstanding the normal seasonal decline as we enter the winter months of H2,” the company said.

UK inflation ticks higher in October

UK inflation edged up in October, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The data showed annual consumer price inflation hit 0.7% last month. Economists had forecast growth of 0.6%, up from 0.5% in September. Price growth in October was flat month-to-month.

The price of clothing, food, furniture and furnishings all rose in October compared to a year ago. The cost of recreational and cultural activities fell, driven by package holidays and cinema tickets.

The ONS said clothing and shoes were the biggest contributor to rising prices, as summer sales ended and stock was replaced by full-price autumn ranges. Clothing prices rose by 2.8% between September and October.

£7.2bn takeover of More Than-insurer RSA agreed

FTSE 100 (^FTSE) insurance giant RSA (RSA.L) has agreed to a £7.2bn takeover bid led by Canadian insurer Intact (IFC.TO).

RSA said in a statement on Wednesday it had agreed terms of an all-cash offer with Intact Financial Corporation and Tryg (TRYG.CO), a Danish insurer also taking part in the deal.

RSA is best known for its More Than car insurance brand in the UK but has operations all over the world. The acquirers plan to carve up the business as part of the deal.

The 685p-a-share bid for the business represents a 50% premium on RSA’s share price prior to news of the takeover bid breaking earlier this month.

Shares in RSA rose 4% in early trade on Wednesday to trade at 673p.

British Land hit on fall in office leasing volumes

British Land (BLND.L) reported a fall in its underlying profit for the first half of 2020, with both its office and retail portfolio taking a hit due to lockdowns across the UK as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Shares were down 4% as markets opened on Wednesday morning.

Underlying profit for the six months ending 30 September was £107m, an almost 30% decrease year-on-year.

Loss after tax was £730m, up from £404m a year earlier.

“Leasing activity was understandably subdued, with occupiers more focused on the short-term operational challenges,” the company said in a statement.

Stocks dip as alarm over infection rates and curbs outweighs vaccine hopes

European stock markets opened lower on Wednesday, as concern over coronavirus rates and restrictions outweighed vaccine hopes.

Investors are starting “to focus more on the near term issues of the economic damage caused by extended lockdowns and restrictions, rather than the prospect of a vaccine that still remains some weeks away,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) dropped 0.5% at the open, while Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) lost 0.4% and France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) dropped 0.3%.

S&P 500 (ES=F) and Dow Jones Industrial Average (YM=F) futures were trading 0.3% lower as markets opened in Europe, while the Nasdaq (NQ=F) was off 0.1%.

Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) also lost 1.1% overnight after new infections hit a record high in Tokyo. But a better short-term outlook on infection levels prevented similar losses on other leading Asian indices. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng (^HSI) closed 0.4% higher, while the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) gained 0.2%.

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