Coronavirus - 7 September


• Production of 30m doses of Oxford University’s vaccine begins.
• Pizza express closes 73 stores and cuts 1,100 jobs.
• Israel has introduced overnight curfews.
• Delhi metro opens five months after being shut.

Company news
Buildings & Construction
• SigmaRoc# – “In spite of Covid related disruptions in March and April, the swift and effective action taken by the team in managing costs, ensuring operational continuity where possible and identifying commercial opportunities in local markets ensured a resilient performance through the lockdown period and a strong response as market conditions began to recover. As a result, performance in the first half was robust with positive momentum in growth and margin appreciate maintained.
Trading for July and August was consistent with the trends seen through the half year end, with the Group’s European operations witnessing normal seasonal reductions in activity in this period. Ronez continues to see an encouraging rebound in Jersey, supported by a solid order book into Q4, but with a slower return of activity in Guernsey. SigmaPPG performance remains strong with supply into a number of high-quality infrastructure projects. The recovery in South Wales has continued with the order book now benefiting from some significant project work and the Group will look to begin implementing further efficiency initiatives in the business having acquired the outstanding 60% interest in GD Harries in August. Aggregate demand for CDH is encouraging coming out of the summer holiday period as is the residential market order book for Bluestone. Visibility over Belgian commercial and public sector Bluestone demand is more limited and so demand patterns for the fourth quarter are more challenging to predict at this stage.
On the basis of no further significant impacts on the Group’s markets as a result of the pandemic, the Board expects the recovery trends experienced through the third quarter to be maintained over the remainder of the year. As a result and with the benefit of the GD Harries acquisition, the Board expects 2020 financial performance to reflect further significant year on year progress which could be further accelerated by a continued recovery in end-market conditions in 2021.”

Food, Drinks & Household
• Associated British Food – “Trading in the fourth quarter in both our food businesses and Primark exceeded our expectations. Grocery benefited from a continuation of increased retail sales volumes in our key markets of the US, Europe and Australia. Increased demand for yeast and bakery ingredients, particularly across the Americas and China, delivered higher sales for Ingredients. As expected Sugar will deliver a much improved profit year on year. All Primark stores reopened during May, June and July and trading during the fourth quarter has been strong. In the latest four-week UK market data for sales in all channels Primark achieved our highest ever value and volume shares for this time of year.
For the full year we expect a very strong increase in the aggregate adjusted operating profit for our Sugar, Grocery, Agriculture and Ingredients businesses over last year. This will be driven by increases in each division with particularly strong increases in Sugar and Grocery. Adjusted operating profit for Primark on an IFRS16 basis, excluding exceptional charges, is now expected to be at least at the top end of the £300-350m range previously advised compared to £913m reported for the last financial year.”

• Future – “As outlined in the Business Update provided in July, the Group continues to benefit from the trend in a shift to digital media. In August, organic unique visitors in the UK and US were up 25% and 40% respectively compared to the prior year. Combined with a better than expected performance of TI Media in the second half, full-year adjusted operating profit is now expected to be materially ahead of current market expectations. In addition, as a result of continued strong cash conversion the business is de-levering quickly.
The integration of TI Media remains on track and the Group continues to make good progress. Following on from the three websites launched earlier in the summer, and, both new websites in TI Media’s content verticals, have now gone live. The Group has also successfully migrated both the Finance and the magazine subscription systems onto common platforms. Delivery on synergies continues to progress well with £10m already secured, of which at least £3m will benefit FY20. As a result, Future now anticipates cost synergies of £20m per annum by the end of FY21, ahead of earlier forecasts of £15m per annum. The Group continues to expect that synergies will be delivered in line with the original cost-to-achieve ratio.”

• Hochschild – “I am pleased to report that the team has carried out a successful remobilisation and ramp-up at our flagship Inmaculada operation and that we are now running the mine at full capacity. We have also reinstated our guidance for 2020 which reflects the impact of the ongoing restrictions in both Peru and Argentina but is expected to deliver a solid second half of production with strong expected cash flow generation.”

Real Estate
• Belvoir – “The reliable and recurring nature of our lettings business, which underpins 62% of gross profit, was evident during H1 with lettings operating on par with 2019. A strong Q1 for property sales and financial services was followed by a lockdown on estate agency activity for half of Q2 during which time our franchisees focused on looking after their pipeline so as to safeguard sales post-lockdown, and our financial advisers switched to selling remortgage and income and life protection products. Since our sector was ‘unlocked’ in May, both property sales and financial services activities have been at record-breaking levels for the Group in terms of instructions, sales agreed and written mortgages. These are expected to convert to sales fees and banked mortgage income during the remainder of the year.”

• UK rail services increased today to approximately 90% of pre-coronavirus levels.
• UK house prices hit a record high in August, according to the latest figures from Halifax. Prices jumped by 1.6% in August alone, a little faster than forecast, lifting the average price to £245,747.
• Sales of Chinese-made goods abroad jumped by 9.5% in August, compared with a year ago. This is stronger than expected and the biggest monthly gain since March 2019, suggesting demand is picking up across the global economy.
• AstraZeneca has already begun production of the UK government’s initial order of 30m doses of its coronavirus vaccine, which has been developed in collaboration with researchers at Oxford University.
• The postponed Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead next year “with or without Covid”, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee says.
• Etihad Airways said it would cover medical and quarantine costs for passengers if they contract the new coronavirus after travelling on one of its flights. Medical costs of up to €150,000 and quarantine costs of up to €100 a day for 14 days will be covered by Etihad for passengers who contract the disease within 31 days of first travel.
• Pizza Express has announced plans to permanently close 73 UK branches and could cut up to 1,100 jobs at the restaurant chain.

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