FTSE 100 Live: Unilever appoints new CEO, L&G boss to step down

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Two leading FTSE 100 companies announced changes at the top today, with a new boss appointed at Unilever and Sir Nigel Wilson signalling his retirement after a decade running Legal & General.

The moves come at the start of a busy week, with investors focused on interest rate decisions and a flurry of blue-chip earnings.

Ryanair earlier recorded a bigger-than-expected quarterly profit of 211 million euros (£185 million) after a strong Christmas period.

FTSE 100 Live Monday

  • L&G’s Sir Nigel Wilson to stand down

  • Unilever appoints new CEO

  • Markets struggle ahead of rates decisions

That’s all folks. Tomorrow: house prices and mortgage approvals

Monday 30 January 2023 18:21 , Simon Hunt

That concludes our liveblog coverage for today, after a spate of board changes at some of the country’s biggest listed companies including Legal & General, Unlilever and 888.

The Evening Standard City Desk will be back at 7am tomorrow where we’ll have data from the Nationwide House Price Index, followed by details on rates of mortgage approvals.

Big week ahead for tech stocks with Apple, Amazon and Alphabet earnings

Monday 30 January 2023 17:30 , Simon Hunt

This week is very important for equity markets as a large part of the index weight will report this week with the highlight being earnings from Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon all reporting on Thursday after the market close.

Peter Garnry, Head of Equity Strategy at Saxo, said: “With the weak outlooks from Intel and Microsoft there is nervousness in the air ahead of these giant earnings releases.

“Analysts expect Apple to report the first negative revenue growth rate in three years down 2% y/y and a 7% decline y/y in EPS. The indications we have got from memory chip manufacturers all indicate a significant slowdown in consumer electronics and it would be wild if Apple could escape those headwinds.

“Alphabet is the talk of town due to Microsoft’s $10bn investment in OpenAI and its ChatGPT technology and many are saying is a threat to Google’s search business.”

JD Sports faces fine over hack

Monday 30 January 2023 16:54 , Simon English

JD Sports became the latest large business to admit it has fallen victim to a cyber attack that leaves 10 million customers potentially at risk.

It could face a fine of more than £17 million.

Jonathan Compton at city law firm DMH Stallard said: "The aggravating factors here are the numbers involved, the personal data accessed and the length of time since the infringement.

"JD Sports can expect fines up to the higher maximum permitted under Part 6 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

"The higher maximum amount is £17.5 million or 4% of the total annual worldwide turnover in the preceding financial year, whichever is higher."

You can read more here

FTSE 100 closes up 22 points: Evening wrap

Monday 30 January 2023 16:38 , Simon Hunt

The FTSE 100 closed up 22 points to 7,786 at the end of the day’s trading session in London, recovering from losses earlier in the day.

Sainsbury’s was the biggest gainer on the day, rising 3.6% as investors continued to mull the prospects of a takeover of the supermarket after news retail conglomerate Bestway took a large stake in it on Friday.

Elsewhere, traders did not react positively to the news Sir Nigel Wilson was signalling his retirement after a decade running Legal & General-- that sent shares down 1.8% to 256p.

But outside the FTSE, the biggest surprise came with 888, which lost nearly a third of the value of its shares after the CEO said he was stepping down amid a probe into the firm’s VIP accounts.

US stocks fall: Wall Street open

Monday 30 January 2023 14:38 , Simon Hunt

US stocks fell in the opening minutes of trade on Wall Street, as investors took a more cautious approach as they await the next interest rate decision by the Federal Reserve later this week.

The Nasdaq fell 0.9%, while the Dow Jones slipped 0.2% and the S&P 500 was down 0.5% after the opening bell.

Star turn: West End landlords cheer trading performance

Monday 30 January 2023 13:54 , Simon Hunt

Two of the West End’s biggest landlords today said Christmas spending exceeded pre-pandemic levels despite the cost-of-living crisis and rail strikes.

Shaftesbury, which owns a 16.4-acre portfolio across Soho and Chinatown including Carnaby Street, said turnover for its occupiers was up 42% versus December 2021 and 6% higher than December 2019.

Chief executive Brian Bickell said the figures bucked a wider trend: “This strong performance is in stark contrast to the more subdued spending and consumer confidence reported nationally.”

Meanwhile Capco, which owns much of Covent Garden (above), reported a “successful Christmas trading period” with like-for-like sales exceeding pre-pandemic levels, although it did not give further details.

Capco’s chief executive Ian Hawksworth said: “Strong leasing demand for our prime properties in the West End continues to deliver rental growth.”

Festive menu peps up Christmas sales 10% for Caffè Nero

Monday 30 January 2023 12:29 , Simon Hunt

Christmas sales at coffee chain Caffè Nero have bounced back strongly and were 10% up on pre-pandemic levels thanks to a popular festive menu that included speciality coffees and luxury mince pies.

The company hit record weekly sales during the first week of December last year, netting £7.9 million, and served 7.8 million customers during the month. Like-for-like sales were 9.5% higher than Christmas 2021.

Caffè Nero founder and CEO Gerry Ford said the chain’s Christmas menu, which included a Black Forest mocha, salted caramel brownie hot chocolate and amaretto mince pies, had been “very well received” by customers.

In a wider trading update, Caffè Nero also reported that for the first half of this financial year, sales in the UK were £150 million, averaging 104% of pre-pandemic levels and an increase of 17% on 2021.

Cautious trading ahead of rates decisions

Monday 30 January 2023 10:23 , Graeme Evans

A pivotal week for stock markets started cautiously today as investors stayed on the sidelines ahead of interest rate decisions and earnings updates from the likes of Apple and Amazon.

Global markets have enjoyed a strong first month of 2023, although with the inflation battle far from over the latest guidance by central banks will be crucial to further progress.

The US Federal Reserve is first up on Wednesday, when it is due to slow its pace of interest rate hikes to 0.25% and potentially signal a pause in policy tightening.

The Bank of England and European Central Bank are both widely expected to make half point increases the following day, alongside updates on the economic outlook.

A flurry of fourth quarter earnings on both sides of the Atlantic will also be a big factor in determining the ongoing mood. Those reporting in London this week include Shell, while 12% of the S&P 500 by market value is due after Wall Street’s closing bell on Thursday thanks to updates from Apple, Alphabet and Amazon.

With investors reluctant to take new positions ahead of the announcements, the FTSE 100 index slipped 11.04 points to 7754.11 and the UK-focused FTSE 250 index slumped by 0.9% or 177.91 points to 19,857.48.

Top flight fallers included Prudential and Standard Chartered but Sainsbury’s added another 4.3p to 256.8p following the surprise disclosure of stake building by Costcutter owner Bestway.

In the FTSE 250 index, IT services business Computacenter jumped 8% or 160p to 2152p after it said a record and better-than-expected fourth quarter will result in an 18th consecutive year of underlying earnings growth.

Elsewhere, clothing and footwear retailer N Brown was in focus after Friday evening’s disclosure that Sports Direct owner Frasers Group has built a near 18% stake in the JD Williams and SimplyBe business.

Shares in N Brown jumped 12.5% or 4p to 36p. FTSE 100-listed Frasers fell 16.5p to 754.5p.

888 boss steps down with immediate effect

Monday 30 January 2023 10:04 , Simon Hunt

888 CEO Itai Pazner will step down with immediate effect as the gambling operator announced an internal investigation into the standard of its money-laundering checks on Middle Eastern VIPs.

888 - which bought William Hill last year - said it would suspend benefits for high-rollers in the Middle East after it learned “certain best practices have not been followed” when it came to performing anti-money laundering and know-your-customer checks on these gamblers.

Alongside pausing VIP operations, the business said Pazner would leave his post as CEO.Lord Mendehlson - a former lobbyist turned Labour Party peer - will take over Pazner’s duties in an interim capacity as executive chair. 888 said the suspension could cost the business up to 3% of revenue should it remain in effect.

The gambling operator’s share price plummeted as markets opened this morning, down more than 20% to 80p per share.888 shares are now down by more than 80% since peaking in September 2021, when the business announced it would acquire William Hill’s non-US assets from American casino giant Caesars.

Dairy man is new Unilever boss

Monday 30 January 2023 09:59 , Simon English

EMBATTLED consumer goods giant Unilever today asked board member Hein Schumacher to take over as its new boss and arrest a period of decline.

The Hellmann’s mayo to Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream giant has faced the ire of shareholders for a lacklustre performance. A failed £50 billion for GSK’s consumer arm also didn’t help.

Today it said Schumacher, who also runs Dutch dairy co-op Royal FrieslandCampina, will take over in July.

He will replace Alan Jope who had earlier said he would stand aside. Jope may not have had the support of enough investors in any case.

Over the last five years, the shares are flat at about 4052p.

Critics have included Terry Smith, who said Unilever failed to engage properly with long term shareholders such as himself and mocked its woke-like search for the “purpose” of mayonnaise.

Crucially, Schumacher does have the support if activist investor Nelson Peltz, who is also now on the board and is thought to favour a radical shake-up, and perhaps a break-up, of the business.

He said today: “I strongly support Hein as our new CEO and look forward to working closely with him to drive significant sustainable shareholder value.”

Jope was paid £5 million last year. His successor can expect something similar.

Rates uncertainty hinders FTSE 100 performance

Monday 30 January 2023 08:20 , Graeme Evans

The FTSE 100 index has fallen 17.82 points to 7747.33 at the start of a week that will be dominated by interest rates announcements by the Bank of England, European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said it appeared investors are positioning for a turbulent few days.

He said: “An interest rate hike of 0.5% is expected from the Bank of England, adding further pressure to an economy which is starting to buckle under subdued growth concerns.

“Even so, much of the economic data has been poor but better than feared, with the result that the domestic barometer which is the FTSE 250 has added 5.8% in 2023 after the effective bear market of last year.”

Legal & General was among today’s biggest fallers in the FTSE 100 index after long-serving boss Sir NIgel Wilson announced plans to step down. Shares in the financial services group dropped 5.5p to 255.3p.

Unilever appoints new CEO

Monday 30 January 2023 08:04 , Graeme Evans

Unilever today unveiled Hein Schumacher as successor to chief executive Alan Jope, who announced in September his intention to retire from the Hellman’s and Knorr business.

Schumacher is currently boss of the dairy and nutrition business Royal FrieslandCampina and became a non-executive director of Unilever in October last year.

He will begin as Unilever CEO on 1 July after a one-month handover period.

Strong demand and higher fares boost Ryanair

Monday 30 January 2023 07:47 , Graeme Evans

Ryanair’s scheduled revenues for the third quarter jumped almost 85% to 1.45 billion euros (£1.3 billion), driven by demand over Christmas and the October half-term at higher fares.

Ancillary revenues delivered over €22.50 (£19.70) per passenger as overall revenues lifted 57% to 2.31 billion euros (£2 billion).

Operating costs jumped 36% at 2.15 billion euros (£1.9 billion), reflecting higher fuel costs, pay rises and the impact of increased traffic.

The Dublin-based carrier returned to profit with a surplus of 211 million euros (£184.5 million), which compared with the 200 million euros forecast in upgraded guidance at the start of this month.

It expects the current quarter to be loss-making due to the absence of Easter from March, with full-year underlying profit guidance unchanged at 1.32 billion-1.42 billion euros (£1.16 billion-£1.24 billion).

Record profit for STEM recruiter SThree

Monday 30 January 2023 07:47 , Simon Hunt

STEM recruiter SThree has hurtled towards record profits as tech firms battle to recruit top talent.

Profit before tax climbed 24% to £77 million for the year to end November, while revenue climbed 23% to £1.6 billion.

SThree boss Timo Lehne said: “The exceptional, record-breaking, full year performance reported today demonstrates that our well-established strategy, focused on STEM and flexible talent, has continued to deliver and puts us in a unique position to win now and in the future.”

Sir Nigel Wilson quits L&G

Monday 30 January 2023 07:32 , Simon English

SIR Nigel Wilson today said he intends to retire “from executive life” after more than a decade at the helm of Legal & General.

The City stalwart led the insurer through a huge period of change for both the industry and the wider financial sector.

He joined as chief financial officer in 2009 and became CEO in 2012.

Today he said: "Legal & General has been a big part of my life and my decision to retire from the Group has been taken with mixed emotions. It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Chief Executive of Legal & General over the past decade and I am deeply proud of everything we have achieved.”

L&G is a huge institutional investor, looking after assets of £1.4 trillion.

His chairman Sir John Kingman said: “Nigel has successfully navigated significant geopolitical changes as well as challenges in the regulatory and market environments of each of our core businesses and has steered the Group into a position of strength from which it can continue developing on behalf of its shareholders, customers and people.”

Finding a successor who can satisfy the demands of shareholders and regulators will not be easy.

Sir Nigel was knighted for services to the Financial Services Industry and Regional Development in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List. He has won several national masters Athletics Championships. He has five daughters, and three grandchildren.