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News

UK reopening optimism drives FTSE250 to a record close

Cruise ships boost stocks

Europe

It’s been a very solid session for UK stocks today with the FTSE250 posting a new record high, and wiping out all of its pandemic losses in the process, while the FTSE100 is on course to close at its highest level since February last year.

The rebound in the FTSE250 from the lows last year at 12,373.5 has been particularly impressive despite the devastation wrought on big parts of the UK economy.

Some of the best performers over the past 12 months have been the likes of AO World, Royal Mail, Watches of Switzerland, who have seen gains in excess of 200%. We’ve also seen solid rebounds in the likes of Frasers Group, Signature Aviation and Virgin Money whose share prices have more than doubled.

In terms of underperformers there are just under 20 stocks, out of 251 that haven’t posted a gain in the last 12 months, including the likes of Hiscox, Babcocks, and Moneysupermarket.com.

Today’s best performers have been broad based with Just Eat Takeaway the best performer, though it’s not immediately clear why, while Deliveroo has enjoyed a welcome boost as unconditional trading got underway, shrugging off the news that their UK riders have voted for strike action.

They still remain well below their IPO price of 390p and are likely to remain so for a while yet, however today’s price action does offer hope that the lows might well be in. It would appear that for now Deliveroo’s retail shareholder base is content to stay put for now and see how the shares trade before deciding whether to cut their losses.

Ryanair this morning revised its forecast for full year net losses down to €800m-€850m. Full year passenger traffic declined from 149m to 27.5m, while expectations for FY22 are likely to be towards the lower end of the 80m to 120m passengers due to the slow rollout of the vaccine in Europe delaying the prospect of some form of a return to normal. This has acted as a bit of a drag on the share price, while their sector peers EasyJet and IAG have finished the day higher.   

Royal Dutch Shell has seen its shares edge higher after updating its Q1 production guidance saying that it expects adjusted earnings to be positive, helped by the recent rises in energy prices. The company said the Texas storms had an adverse effect of up to $200m. Refinery utilisation is expected to be between 71% and 75%.

It’s been a rare good day for Saga despite the company reporting a full year pre-tax loss of £61.2m which was primarily as a result of a £59.8m goodwill impairment in H1.   

Fortunately given that the UK is its home market the outlook is promising for some prospect of a summer season, however the slow vaccination response in Europe may well limit the upside here. In terms of a return to normal this year the process is likely to be a slow one, however Saga does have plenty of cash available, helped by the raising of £150m back in September.

In January the firm said it expected to generate an underlying profit before tax largely on the back of an improvement in its insurance business with policy sales up 1% year on year, and it has delivered on that, if you ignore the impairment.  

Its biggest problem remains around its cruise and travel business, which is seeing fairly limited activity, but which is now showing a 20% improvement on the same period last year

The company is still burning through cash on a monthly basis at around £6m a month, however if all goes well it looks to be in a good position to take advantage of a decent summer, any delays to reopening notwithstanding.  

Carnival shares are also higher despite this morning’s announcement of further US cruise cancellations, and the extension of the pause to its operations through US ports beyond June 30th this year. The company also reported a Q1 loss of $1.95bn, a slightly bigger loss than was expected. Despite this management said that they have enough liquidity to get back to full operations fairly quickly, with booking 90% higher in Q1 than they were in Q4 of last year. More encouragingly bookings for 2022 are ahead of what was a very strong performance in 2019.

The company is already hosting a number of UK cruises this summer with six of the company’s brands expected to restart in a limited fashion by the summer.

US

US markets have opened slightly higher, after a modestly negative session yesterday, with the shares of cruise companies getting a lift from the positive booking’s numbers from Carnival, and Saga’s latest update with Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean also trading higher.

Today’s main focus is expected to be on the latest FOMC minutes with the main focus likely to be on how the various Fed officials who shifted their dot plot estimates into 2022 and 2023 and how they see the US economy evolving over the course of the next few months.

FX

The US dollar has been on a bit of a slide in the past few days, despite Friday’s bumper payrolls report, falling to its lowest level in two weeks. The consensus view appears to be that despite the strong numbers on Friday the US Federal Reserve will be able to hold the line when it comes to holding off on a tightening of policy before 2024.

This also helps explain why US 10-year yields have drifted back from their recent highs at 1.77%. The reality however is likely to be somewhat different given that markets set their own expectations when it comes to the glide path of rates. If we get several successive jobs reports in and around the 1m mark then it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible for the Fed not to react to that improving economic outlook, or risk an overheating moment. Earlier this week we saw US job openings hit their highest level in two year, which suggests that the US economy still has plenty of slack to catch up.

The pound has taken an absolute battering today, predominantly as a result of a squeeze on euro short positions, with some suggesting that all the negativity around the AstraZeneca vaccine is weighing on the currency. It is being suggested that these problems might raise the prospect of a delay in the timetable to a full reopening of the UK economy. This seems highly dubious given that the Moderna rollout starts today, which should offset any potential delay with respect to the Astra shot. It is more likely that today's sterling losses are as a result of profit taking after a series of strong gains over the last few weeks.

Commodities

Having hit a two-week high earlier this week gold prices have slipped back a touch, however given the current weakness in US 10 year yields, the downside looks somewhat limited. This could, of course change if tonight’s Fed minutes show any hint of hawkishness.  

Crude oil prices initially managed to shrug off the sudden change of heart on the part of OPEC+ members in deciding to modestly increase the level of production in May and June, albeit modestly by an extra 350k barrels a day in May and then another 350k in June. As the day has progressed prices have slipped back a touch despite crude oil inventories showing a bigger than expected draw of 3.5m barrels. These were offset by fairly big builds in distillates and gasoline inventories.


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