Ocado rides high on M&S promise, G4S knocks back approach

Morning Note

The question every Ocado shareholder has is whether the M&S tie-up will deliver. The answer so far, just a couple of weeks into the partnership, seems to be positive. Forward demand is strong, and management say adding M&S products has increased the average basket by around 5 items.

We should question though whether the novelty of getting Percy Pigs in your online shop will last.

Retail revenues – pre-M&S – accelerated from +27% in H1 to +52% in Q3 as the shift to online grocery continues apace, with the number of orders on a weekly basis up almost 10%. UK grocery sales rose 10.8% in the 12 weeks to September 6th, according to Kantar, which indicates Ocado is significantly outperforming. Shares in Ocado jumped over 6%, whilst MKS rose over 5% to 110p.

Of course, Ocado shares don’t trade on such lofty multiples because it runs a successful UK grocery business, but on expected recurring revenue streams from international partners. These have been slow to materialise and there was no further communication in today’s update.

Earnings from international partners remain slow to emerge and in July management cautioned that EBITDA from International Solutions would decline due to ‘continued investment in improving the platform and building the business, and from increased support costs with launch of initial CFC sites’.

Despite this jump in retail revenues, management can only promise full-year EBITDA of £40m. The problem for Ocado is it takes a long time to get a return from building costly fulfilment centres, while Marks will find out that it’s very hard to translate online grocery sales into profits.

On those Kantar numbers, it is worth noting that growth in supermarket sales decelerated in August because of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with sales down £155m compared with the July period. Shares in Tesco rose, while those in Sainsbury’s and Morrison fell.

UK unemployment rises, UK Internal Market Bill moves forward

UK unemployment rose to 4.1%, in a clear signal that the labour market is coming under increasing strain. According to the ONS, the number of employees in the UK on payrolls was down around 695,000 compared with March 2020. The claimant count rose to 2.7m, which is an increase of 120% from March levels. Over 5m people remained in furlough in July – how many are coming back?

Boris’s internal market bill cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons but 30 Tory MPs abstained, hoping to water it down. The EU retaliated by delaying its decision on allowing  the City to continue clearing billions of euros every day in derivatives. London dominates the market but Paris and Frankfurt would both like a larger slice – of course you cannot strip it out of London very easily so this looks more like the European Commission flexing its muscles.

GBPUSD was steady in the middle of its range around 1.2860 having struck a high at 1.2920 in afternoon trading yesterday. Support to be found on the recent lows put in around the 200-day EMA at 1.2750.

Europe struggles on the open despite strong session in New York

European stocks faltered a bit after opening in the green, indicative really of the whole summer. The Euro Stoxx 50 neatly shows how European blue chips have drifted since June.

US stocks pushed up yesterday, with the S&P 500 pushing higher by 1.27% and every sector in the green. The Nasdaq was up almost 2%. Tesla shares rocketed 12%, while Nikola was up 11% before plunging 8% in after-hours trade.

Nikola responded to the Hindenburg research note but it seemed to me to be a rather weak defence with the company’s own promo videos on YouTube served up as ‘evidence’.

G4S rejects Garda World bid

Elsewhere, G4S shares were a little weaker this morning but largely held yesterday’s gains after the unsolicited approach from Garda World. A lengthy statement this morning rejects the offer in no uncertain terms, with management saying that the ‘highly opportunistic’ bid significantly undervalues the business. They go on to outline a detailed financial case on why they should not be bought.

Whilst the 190p offer represents a 31% premium to the undisturbed 145p the stock was trading at before the news broke, this only really recovers pandemic-related depreciation and G4S is probably right to demand a lot more for solid business that generates about £7bn in sales annually.

Always interesting to see how a company deleveraging  (G4S reduced net debt to EBITDA from 3.27x in 2015 to 2.58x today) makes you more appealing to a leveraged buyout, in which GW is a specialist.

Markets still rattled by coronavirus fears after yesterday’s brutal sell-off

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Investors fled to safety en masse yesterday as a spike in coronavirus cases in Italy, South Korea, and Iran raised fears that the outbreak was becoming a pandemic.

$1.5 trillion was wiped from global equity markets; the Dow recorded only its third ever 1,000 point drop, and the VIX ‘fear index’ spiked to the highest levels since January. Oil sank 4% and gold leapt to a seven-year high.

Today, the sell-off has paused, but the market is hugely indecisive.

Stocks, oil, volatile as markets await next major development

Since the European open today we’ve seen major indices like the DAX, FTSE 100, and Euro Stoxx 50 extend gains towards 1%, drop to multi-month lows, and rebound above opening levels. US stock market futures have gone from indicating a 200-point gain for the Dow on the open to minor losses, and back to signalling a positive open.

The FX market continues to see a shift towards the safety of the US dollar, although cable has managed to hold some gains despite easing back after rising to test $1.30 earlier in the session.

Gold is down around 0.8% and silver has suffered losses of more than 1.3% on profit-taking, but risk-appetite is clearly still absent as crude and Brent oil are struggling to hold opening levels. Like stock markets, the two benchmarks climbed on the open, then fell into the red, before recovering somewhat.

New coronavirus cases reported in Italy, Iran, Austria, Croatia, Tenerife

Markets are caught between buying the dips and pricing in further worrying developments. The first case of coronavirus has been reported in Southern Italy, and Austria and Croatia have reported their first cases today as well. The two Austrian cases are in the province of Tyrol, which borders Northern Italy, while the young man infected in Croatia had recently returned after spending several days in Milan.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people are being tested and many guests quarantined in a hotel in Tenerife after a case of the virus was confirmed there. Iran has also provided an update on the outbreak there: the number of cases is up to 95 and 16 people have died – the Deputy Health Minister is one of those infected.

We’ve also had a slew of companies warning that COVID-19 will impact their earnings. UK blue-chips Meggitt and Croda are weighing on the FTSE 100 after issuing warnings over the impact of the virus upon their businesses.

Markets may gain more direction when the US markets open, but even then uncertainty looks to be the order of the day.

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