Coronavirus - Danger close

Weekly health ministry data from France shows that workplaces are the main source of current outbreaks in the country.

Since 9 May, private and public companies have accounted for 22% of 609 clusters, health institutions accounted for 16% of all clusters and extended families accounted for 14%. Public transport, including trains and planes, accounted for just 1% of clusters, and schools and universities only 4%. Many will drop their guard in places and with people that are familiar, when the risk, if anything, is greater in these close quarter interactions.


• 6% of the UK population may have been infected according to a study by Imperial College London.
• 900k more jobless claims filed in the US last week.
• Peru extends lockdown.
• Two cities in China have found traces of Covid-19 in imported frozen food and on food packaging.

Company news


• Anexo – “Having seen a decline in activity levels and cash collections in H1 2020 as a result of the global pandemic, recent activity levels indicate a strong second half performance for the Credit Hire division. The outlook for the Legal Services division is also positive with recruitment continuing as the market remains challenging for many competing legal businesses. Recovery to the levels originally envisaged in cash collections is expected to be somewhat slower to recover than credit hire activity; however, the return of our staff to the office and recent trends indicate positive momentum in what is traditionally a slower period during the summer months.”

• International Personal Finance# – “We continue to be encouraged by the extent to which our businesses are now stabilising into a 'new normal' operational environment.

Government restrictions in our European markets have now been largely lifted, almost all our agents are continuing their visits to their customers, and a phased return to work for our office-based staff is underway, both under strict safety measures.

In Mexico, where there has not been a federal government mandated nationwide lockdown, our agents' ability to visit their customers has been less impacted. Nevertheless, we have continued to ensure appropriate safety arrangements are in place for our agents and customers, particularly as the pandemic there may not yet have reached its peak.

Collections – We delivered further improvements in collections effectiveness following the positive trend reported in May and June, reaching 92% of pre-Covid expectations in July (May 80%, June 88%). Each of our businesses improved month on month and we expect to see a continuation of this strong performance in the coming period.

Credit issued – Whilst we continued to maintain a cautious stance on issuing credit, we have been encouraged by our consistently improving collections effectiveness following the progressive relaxation of lockdown restrictions in our markets. This gave us confidence to ease our strict credit control settings in most markets and we increased credit issued from 37% of pre-Covid levels in June to 43% in July, without compromising the quality of the loan book by focusing on our higher quality customers.

This was achieved primarily through higher lending levels in our European home credit markets where credit issued increased to 56% of pre-Covid expectations (June 2020: 43%), with a notable increase in volumes in both Romania and Poland. In addition, we eased credit settings in Mexico home credit and this resulted in an increase in credit issued from 27% in June to 35% of pre-Covid expectations in July.”


• Spire Healthcare – “Spire Healthcare revenues in January and February rose c3% versus prior year, with nearly 9% growth in self-pay, but fell from the middle of March as the pandemic impacted the country. The Company made available its capacity, equipment and colleagues to the NHS and treated approximately 46,500 NHS admissions in total in H1 20 (46,800 in H1 19). The majority of admissions were for oncology, with Spire Healthcare providing a safe environment to continue urgent clinical pathways.

Future outlook – NHS England has signalled that it expects to conduct a procurement process to tender for providers to help reduce the NHS waiting list, which Spire Healthcare expects to participate in, with contracts likely to commence in Q4 20 or Q1 21.

Growing call numbers and bookings, and indications from insurance partners show a steady return of the private market, which, combined with strong NHS demand, provides the Company with confidence for the medium term. Spire Healthcare will now be available to support the NHS to reduce waiting lists whilst growing private activity and remains committed to focussing on its private business over the medium term.”


• Coats# – “Group revenues decreased 24% on a reported basis, as all markets were impacted adversely by the Covid-19 pandemic during the period. On a CER basis, Group revenues reduced 21%, which was 3% above the reported rate of decrease as a result of year-on-year currency translation headwinds (notably Brazilian Real, Indian Rupee and Turkish Lira) during the period. On an organic CER basis, revenues declined 26% as a result of the 5% contribution from the acquisition of Pharr High Performance Yarns (Pharr HP) which was completed in February. All commentary below is on a CER basis unless otherwise mentioned.

As previously reported, our Q1 organic revenues at a Group level were down 8%, which was largely driven by the initial impact of Covid-19 in our China market, alongside a sharp reduction in wider demand in the latter part of March as the global pandemic took hold. Revenues in Q2 at a Group level were down 45% on an organic basis, as we faced severe demand and supply impacts, particularly in April and May, albeit we saw an improving trend through the quarter as lockdown restrictions begun to ease around the globe and demand rose (June underlying organic sales down 25%).

We have seen an improving sales trend in recent, albeit low-season, months with organic sales declines reducing to 25% in June and 18% in July. As we look to the remainder of the second half we are mindful of the ongoing wider macro-economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19 and the importance of trading in the peak months of September, October and November.”

• Goodwin – “The pre-tax profit for the Group for the twelve month period ending 30th April 2020, was £12.1 million (2019: £16.4 million), a decrease of 26% on a revenue of £145 million (2019: £127 million) which is 14% up on the figures reported for the same period last financial year. The Directors propose a reduced dividend of 81.71p (2019: 96.21p). As with the majority of companies around the world, Covid-19 has stalled our progress in the last quarter of the financial year, and we have seen a slower start to the new financial year than we would have expected without the pandemic. Despite this and the disruption due to trade frictions between the USA and China, the underlying progression of the business remains robust and resilient.

At the time of writing, the Group's current workload stands at £183 million which is 11% ahead of last year's Group record figure of £165 million (2019: £165 million, 2018: £82 million, 2017: £76 million). Whilst the current workload figure contains the first element of the supply agreement announced to the Stock Exchange on 22nd June 2020, this supply agreement for the manufacture and machining of storage boxes to assist with nuclear waste clean-up accounts for less than 2% of the £183 million and excludes the amount of orders that are expected to be placed in the future once the mobilisation phase is complete. Armed with this workload, the Group retains a high degree of confidence in the future versus the looming uncertainty for many businesses this coming year.

Within the Mechanical Engineering Division, margins continue to be squeezed on our petrochemical work and this is likely to persist during the current financial year given the low oil price. In order to counteract this I am able to give the assurance that our diligently fostered and growing workload contains substantial amounts of non-petrochemical work commanding respectable margins in areas such as national defence capability and projects of national importance. The critical nature of this ongoing work was highlighted by 'key worker' notices being issued to certain of the Group's operations immediately upon the onset of the pandemic. Whilst these projects are in their infancy, they will start to ramp up over the next 6 to 12 months.”

• Renishaw – “All our manufacturing facilities around the world are open, although most are operating at lower capacity due to reductions in staff numbers caused by a combination of Covid-secure working practices, school closures, shielding due to health conditions and local operating restrictions. At many of our other sites we have limited operations, with many employees continuing to work productively from home. At all sites we have implemented robust measures to protect the welfare of our employees and mitigate against business risk. We have been able to maintain supply to customers during this challenging period, but this is a constantly evolving situation and we continue to monitor closely all aspects of our supply chain and are taking mitigating actions where necessary. This report To manage costs closely and to mitigate against the risk of redundancies, the majority of our non-manufacturing staff across the Group have worked reduced hours (in some cases supported by local Government support schemes). We have also utilised the UK Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The members of the Renishaw Board and many staff across the Group also agreed to have their salaries reduced during the period that employees were working reduced hours.”


• GVC – “The strong performance of the Online business coupled with the return of the sporting calendar and the re-opening of our Retail operations means that the Group is well placed for the balance of the year. The Board now expects the Group to deliver underlying EBITDA of £720m-£740m for the full year, subject to there being no further material disruptions. This is supported by the acceleration of £20m of synergies from the acquisition of Ladbrokes Coral, offset by one off impacts in non-core businesses. Net debt is expected to reduce by year end, leaving leverage levels unchanged from the prior year, despite lower levels of underlying EBITDA due to Covid-19 impacts.”

• TUI – “Group revenue of €75m1, down 98%, reflecting business standstill for most of the quarter with partial operations successfully resumed from mid-May.

55 hotels re-opened in the quarter (~15% of total portfolio) as lockdown restrictions eased worldwide from mid-May. Hotel volumes remain significantly lower than usual summer levels however there were encouraging signs of customer demand with average occupancy of 23% achieved, reflecting the initial restart of operations in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and Egypt and the necessary social distancing protocols in place.

All three Cruise operations remained suspended throughout the quarter, adhering to both German and UK government advice on cruising.

Bookings for summer 2020 are down 81% and ASP down 10%. This equates to 16% sold of our original programme reflecting impact of cancellations from mid-March, versus 88% sold at the same point last year.

Rebased on our adjusted capacity plans, we are currently 57% sold to date.

Capacity plans for both winter 2020/21 and summer 2021 have been adjusted from original plans to reflect both current government advice and consumer demand. Capacity for winter 2020/21 has been reduced by 40% and overall bookings are down broadly in line with this capacity adjustment. For the UK, bookings are down 5% and ASP is up 2%.

Summer 2021 capacity has been cautiously adjusted by 20%, with flexibility to adjust as we gain more visibility. Bookings are currently up significantly as customers both rebook holidays from this summer and look to secure new holidays early. Bookings for summer 2021 are consequently up ~145% with ASP up 9%.”


• 4imprint# – “After a decade of strong year-over-year organic growth, increased market share in keeping with our strategic objectives and successful expansion of our operations, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020 caused an unprecedented collapse in demand that severely impacted our results. This situation has presented a multitude of challenges, but equally it has brought out the best in our team members who have worked tirelessly to adapt our operational capabilities and thoroughly test the resilience of our business model.

2020 started auspiciously, with total orders received up more than 13% over prior year at the end of February. From the second week in March onwards, however, we experienced a significant reduction in daily order flow as 'lockdown' orders were widely implemented. Order counts in the US hit a low point in the second week of April, falling to less than 20% of the comparative week in 2019. Demand activity in the small UK business also saw a sharp contraction during this period. As the partial or full lifting of restrictions began in many US states in May and early June, weekly order counts increased steadily, and are now running above 50% of prior year. In total, just over 470,000 orders were processed in the first half on 2020, compared to more than 778,000 in the same period in 2019.

Encouragingly, we continued to acquire new customers during this period, albeit at much lower levels, with the new-to-existing customer ratio staying in a broadly stable band throughout. In addition, the average order value was higher than historical comparatives during this period of depressed demand.

As a direct result of these factors, Group revenue of $265.81m was 66% of the prior year number of $405.06m. Underlying operating profit was $0.13m, (2019: $19.43m). Although clearly very disappointing as a financial result, this half year performance must be set in the context of extreme circumstances and is materially ahead of the bleakest scenarios contemplated in April. In addition, swift decision making and a very keen eye on cost have minimised operational cash burn in the first half of the year, leaving the Group with a strong liquidity position and a firm platform for further recovery as market conditions improve.”

Real Estate

• Empiric Student Properties – “Beyond the immediate impact of Covid-19, there is a forecast recession in the UK and global economies. A counter cyclical impact is that historical evidence shows that in times of recession there is a greater influx into higher education, and we anticipate this will benefit Empiric.”

• Sirius Real Estate# – “Enquiries – The Company is pleased to report an increase in enquiry levels of 6.7% for the period between 1 April and 31 July 2020 compared to the same period in the prior year. Analysis of enquiry data confirms a particular increase in the number of enquiries for storage, which makes up 35% of the Company's total lettable space, from new commercial tenants as well as from new self-storage customers. The table below compares enquiries between 2019 and 2020 in the April-July period.

Lettings – The period April-June 2020 saw an approximate 11% decrease in the number of new lettings and reduction in square metres let compared to the same period in the prior year. The number of new lettings in the month of July 2020 recovered to within 4% of the same month in the prior year; however, in terms of square metre volume represented a 16% increase. Similarly, following the immediate impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Company's enquiry to sales conversion ratio fell to just under 10% in April; however, since May there has been progressive development in the enquiry to sales conversion ratio which, by the month of July, had been restored to meet the internal target of 15%.”


• Topps Tiles# – “Retail trading over the first six weeks of our final quarter has been robust, with like for like retail revenues growing by 15.5% year-on-year.
Home improvement demand has been strong across the period, with DIY activity increasing sharply and Trade customer activity recovering steadily from April lows. While online sales have moderated from the peaks seen in April and May they remain above previous levels, leveraging the Group's recent online investments.

The business is now operating as normal with all stores open and the vast majority trading a full seven day week. With our colleagues having now returned to work, the Group has ceased to make use of the UK Government's Job Protection Scheme.

While recent trading has been extremely robust, uncertainty related to Covid-19 persists and it is unusually difficult to assess the outlook beyond the short term. However, the performance of the business through the pandemic period has been significantly better than initial expectations and this, together with the strength of its management team and balance sheet, gives the Board confidence that the business remains well positioned and capable of strengthening its market leadership position as its markets recover.”

• Watches of Switzerland – “Overall market conditions in both the UK and US markets remained strong, with demand for popular products, particularly those of Rolex, Patek Phillippe and Audemars Piguet outstripping supply for the total markets and for the Watches of Switzerland Group. We believe that these conditions will continue for the foreseeable future.

The closure of our stores in mid-March 2020 clearly resulted in a major shortfall in sales revenues. Our main source of sales during this period was our ecommerce business in the UK. In the six weeks to year-end, ecommerce sales increased 45.8% versus last year and in the month of April 2020 were +82.8%. We added new brands and supported online with marketing that contributed to this market leading performance. We expect there to be a permanent step up in our ecommerce business as a result of these enhancements. In addition, we also increased our marketing support on all digital and social media including direct support of our online sites during this time.

With the loss of store revenue, we were required to review and restrict all areas of expenditure and focus on cash. Most importantly, our priority during this period was the job security of our colleagues and maintaining the salaries of colleagues. As our stores began to re-open in June, I am pleased to report that we were successful in preserving jobs and salaries. Government support during this period has been important in achieving these objectives.”


National Express – “The year started extremely well with outstanding results in January and February. Covid-19 then had an immediate and unprecedented impact on all of our businesses from March onwards. We took swift and decisive action to protect the safety of customers and colleagues and the Group's financial position. This included working very closely with customers and authorities to reduce service and negotiate extra support and payments. While patronage fell 80% during lockdown, mileage was reduced by nearly 80% and we still secured 50% of expected revenue and remained EBITDA positive. We boosted liquidity and secured £1.5 billion of new sources of funds since the start of the lockdown, including a £230 million placing to strengthen our balance sheet.

While unable to predict when pre-pandemic levels of demand will return we remain optimistic about the future as high quality, clean and green mass transit must be at the heart of the global recovery.”

Lifting restrictions

• Singapore has further lifted restrictions: under Singapore's ‘Phase 2’ non-essential retail stores, gyms and most businesses are allowed to re-open. Dine-in services in restaurants and cafes will also resume. Gatherings of more than five people, however, aren't permitted.

• In Wales, all non-essential shops can re-open, providing they follow social distancing rules from Monday. The housing market will begin to re-open, with viewings able to take place. Outdoor markets can also re-open, along with outdoor sports courts for non-contact sports, as well as places of worship for private prayer. Childcare facilities will begin to re-open on a phased basis.


• Today Galicia’s government has banned smoking in the street or in public spaces if social distancing cannot be observed.

• NHS Orkney says it is “profoundly concerned” that the virus is spreading “rapidly” across the islands in north-east Scotland, as health leaders say several people had developed symptoms and travelled to homes in the isles and the mainland.

• An estimated 3.4m people – or around 6% of the population – in England had already been infected with Covid-19 by mid-July, a new study by Imperial College London suggests.

• Two cities in China have found traces of Covid-19 in imported frozen food and on food packaging, local authorities said, raising fears that contaminated food shipments might cause new outbreaks. A sample taken from the surface of frozen chicken wings imported into the southern city of Shenzhen from Brazil, as well as samples of outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp sold in the north-western Xi’An city, have tested positive for the virus, local authorities said on Thursday.

• In Germany, where schools have been re-opening in recent weeks, the environment agency has called for classrooms to be ventilated for 45 minutes after every lesson. It added that classrooms, offices and homes should also be ventilated with wide-open windows after every cough or sneeze.

• Turkey is to delay the re-opening of schools by almost a month. Students will return to classrooms in Turkey in late September, nearly a month after the start of the new academic year, the government announced.

• Italy has ordered travellers arriving from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain to be tested for Covid-19 on and added Colombia to a list of countries under a complete travel ban amid growing concern over new infections.

• A federal judge in Missouri said a group of hair salons and restaurants can sue their insurance carrier for business interruption losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which they say caused a “direct physical loss” to their premises.

• The number of new claims for unemployment benefits in the US dropped below 1m last week, the first time it has done so since the start of the pandemic. There were 963,000 initial claims filed in the week ending 8 August, a drop of 228,000 from the previous week, US Labor Department figures showed.

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