United Kingdom, economie en handel

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Annual profits tumble at Man Group

Man Group posted a slump in annual profits on Thursday, despite a jump in assets under management, after performance fees tumbled.

The world’s largest listed hedge fund reported a 17% increase in AUM in the year to December end to $167.5bn.

The uplift was in part attributable to the acquisition of Varagon Capital Partners, which Man Group completed in September.

Core net management fee revenue also rose, up 4% at $963m. But core performance fees, which are paid by clients on the back of successful investment strategies, tumbled 77% to $180m.

As a result, net revenues fell 29% to $1.2bn while pre-tax profits slumped 56% to $340m.

Robyn Grew, who took over as chief executive from Luke Ellis in September, said: "2023 was a year that defied market expectations, as the world grappled with macroeconomic uncertainty and unforeseen geopolitical events.

"“Against that backdrop, I’m pleased to report a solid set of results."

Looking ahead, Grew - Man Group‘s first female chief executive - acknowledged that "economic trends, geopolitical dynamics, inflation and their interplay on the global stage persist in their unpredictability, continuing to create challenges in both public and private markets".

But she continued: "We have built trusted partnerships with sophisticated allocators globally, enabling us to gain a deep understanding of their needs and challenges.

"This contributed to the considerable progress we made during the year, and informed our strategy going forward."

As at 1015 GMT, shares in Man Group were trading 2% higher at 246.4p.

Around two-thirds of Man Group’s assets are invested in alternative investments including hedge fund strategies and direct lending.

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Pearson FY profits jump on strong demand for English courses

UK educational publisher Pearson said it expected 2024 earnings to be in line with expectations after reporting a rise in annual profits driven by strong demand for its English language courses and extending its share buyback by £200m.

Pre-tax profit rose to £493m from £323m, although sales fell to £3.67bn from £3.8bn. Operating profit of jumped by 31% to £573m on an underlying basis.

New chief executive Omar Abbosh, who took over in January, said Pearson was well positioned for continued growth, including an inflection point with the development of AI.

"I am optimistic about the opportunities this advancement in technology brings," he said.

Underlying sales growth and profit this year was forecast to be in line with current market expectations, with sales growth of 3.7% and adjusted operating profit of £621m.

Reporting by Frank Prenesti for Sharecast.com

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UK plc attracting wave of takeover offers from foreign suitors

(March 1): The UK has become a hotbed for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) this year as dealmakers hunt for bargains in the country’s underperforming stock market.

Direct Line Insurance Group plc and electronics retailer Currys plc both rejected bids from overseas buyers this week, while UK warehouse operator Wincanton plc got an offer from a US logistics provider, kicking off a bidding war with its French suitor.

The spate of offers comes as London equities trade around 40% cheaper than global peers on a key M&A valuation measure, the multiple of enterprise value to earnings. That metric has been on a downward trend since the Brexit vote almost eight years ago. An ailing pound and modest state protections against foreign takeovers also make UK firms more attractive to overseas buyers.

The UK has become a hotbed for mergers and acquisitions this year as as London equities trade around 40% cheaper than global peers. An ailing pound and modest state protections against foreign takeovers also make UK firms more attractive to overseas buyers.

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“There are still a lot of good quality companies, many with strong non-UK revenue streams, which make them attractive on a valuation discount basis for buyers who can pick them up relatively cheaply,” said Mark Taylor, a director at UK broker Panmure Gordon. These “can be bite-sized deals for some of the larger internationals.”

In a reflection of the sinking valuations, offers are coming in at high premiums — and many have been rejected.

Direct Line said a cash-and-stock bid from Belgian insurer Ageas which valued the UK firm at approximately £3.1 billion (RM18.62 billion), or a more than 40% premium, was “unattractive”. And Currys said a sweetened offer from Elliott Investment Management still “significantly undervalued” the company, which has also drawn interest from China’s JD.com Inc.

“The scale of the premiums being offered highlights the low valuation of UK assets,” said Charles Hall, head of research at broker Peel Hunt. “There has been a marked shift to corporate buyers as well as a number of overseas acquirors.”

Wincanton said on Friday its board will recommend the offer from GXO Logistics Inc of the US, which has outbid rival suitor CMA CGM.

Activity is also picking up between companies listed on the London exchange, especially in beaten-down sectors like real estate and building products, where consolidation can help companies cut costs and gain scale.

LondonMetric Property plc agreed in January to take over rival UK landlord LXI REIT plc in a deal valuing the company at £1.9 billion. And Barratt Developments plc struck an agreement in February to buy rival Redrow plc, a combination that would create the UK’s biggest homebuilder.

Overall, buyers both foreign and domestic have announced US$22.2 billion (RM105.44 billion) of acquisitions of UK targets this year, more than double the amount in the same period of 2023.

To be sure, most of the interest from overseas bidders is still for smaller companies. Deal activity among FTSE 100 firms remains moribund, held back by heightened borrowing costs and concerns about the economic situation in the country. Those factors meant that acquisitions of UK companies by foreign buyers slumped to about US$70 billion last year, the lowest since 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Frasers buys online bike retailer Wiggle out of administration

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has reportedly bought online bicycle retailer Wiggle out of administration.

According to The Times, Frasers - which owns Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Flannels, among others - has agreed a deal to buy the brand and intellectual property of both Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles, another online bike store.

Wiggle will add to Frasers’ existing cycling business, which includes Evans Cycles.

Frasers was understood to have paid less than £10m for the Wiggle brand and intellectual property.

Wiggle collapsed in October 2023, with debt of £155m. The Times said the deal with Frasers will result in 447 employees losing their jobs.

It was understood that Frasers is attracted to Wiggle’s strong social media and online presence, and believes the brand can help its efforts to move its sports business upmarket.

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Rotork launches £50m share buyback after strong year

Rotork reported a robust performance in its preliminary results on Tuesday, as well as a promising outlook as it implemented its ‘Growth+’ strategy.

The FTSE 250 company reported an adjusted order intake of £723.7m for 2023, up 6.2% year-on-year, while revenue jumped 12% to £719.1m and adjusted operating profit reached £164.5m, ahead 14.8%.

Its adjusted operating margin saw an improvement of 60 basis points, standing at 22.9%.

Adjusted basic earnings per share rose 14.8% to 14.6p, while cash conversion soared to 120%, a substantial increase from 76% in 2022.

Reported highlights echoed the strength of the company's adjusted performance, with operating profit rising 20.4% to £148.8m.

The operating margin rocketed 140 basis points to 20.7%, while profit before tax reached £150.6m, up by 21.4%.

Basic earnings per share saw a significant rise of 21.7% to 13.2p, as Rotork announced a full-year dividend of 7.2p, up by 7.5%.

Key factors contributing to the strong performance included a 7.8% increase in order intake year-on-year, with all divisions experiencing growth.

Despite supply chain challenges, deliveries accelerated in the second half, leading to a normalisation of the order book, which remained robust at the end of the period.

Revenue growth of 12% was achieved despite significant foreign exchange headwinds, with sales increasing by 13.6% on an organic constant currency basis across all divisions.

Rotork said its commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors was highlighted by its AAA rating in the MSCI ESG assessment, as well as an 11% reduction in scope one and two greenhouse gas emissions year-on-year.

The firm also strengthened its financial position, with closing net cash standing at £134.4m, up from £105.9m in December 2022.

Its return on capital employed (ROCE) improved to 33.9%, up 260 basis points.

Looking ahead, Rotork announced a £50m share buyback programme, saying that with a strong financial performance, a resilient order book, and strategic initiatives in place, it had entered 2024 with confidence in its ability to continue delivering sustainable growth and value creation.

“We continued to make significant progress in 2023 and delivered another year of strong organic sales growth, margin improvement and good cash flow performance,” said chief executive officer Kiet Huynh.

“Given the strength of our balance sheet we have today announced a £50m share buyback whilst retaining the financial flexibility to pursue strategic investments.

“The delivery of ‘Growth+’ continues and the benefits of the strategy are apparent, including in our organic sales growth performance in 2023.”

Huynh said target segment successes included upstream oil and gas electrification, including methane emissions reduction, as well as mining and metals processing with a focus on the battery value chain, and water infrastructure.

“Successes under customer value included further progress on our programme to improve efficiency, lead times and customer experience, and under innovative products and services, the launch of the IQ3 Pro and smartphone app.

“We remain confident of delivering our financial ambition of mid-to-high single digit sales growth and mid-20s adjusted operating margins over time and, based on momentum in the year so far and supported by the strength of our order book, we continue to expect 2024 to be another year of progress on an OCC basis.”

At 0916 GMT, shares in Rotork were up 3.29% at 326.6p.

Reporting by Josh White for Sharecast.com.

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Hiscox hails record profits, announces $150m buyback

Hiscox hailed record full-year pre-tax profit on Tuesday amid record investment income as it announced a $150m share buyback.

In the year to the end of December 2023, pre-tax profit rose to $625.9m from $275.6m a year earlier. This was underpinned by a 36.4% increase in the insurance result to $492.3m and record net investment income of $384.4m, versus a loss of $187.3m a year earlier.

Net written premiums were up 10.7% to $3.6bn, while the undiscounted combined ratio came in at 89.8%, down from 91.1% in 2022. The lower the combined ratio, the more profitable the insurer is.

The group return on equity rose from 10.1% to 21.8% - the highest it has delivered in seven years.

Hiscox also announced the launch of a share buyback of up to $150m.

Chief executive Aki Hussain pointed to the record profits and said: "This excellent result has led to very strong capital generation, which we are deploying for further growth in all parts of the business in addition to a special return to shareholders of $150 million.

"The buyback will commence immediately and illustrates our objective of delivering strong returns to our shareholders."

At 0915 GMT, the shares were up 2% at 1,144p.

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Intertek FY profits grow on improved revenues

Laboratory testing group Intertek said on Tuesday that profits had grown in 2023, driven by improved full-year revenues and margins.

Intertek said total revenues were up 4.3% to £3.3bn, while like-for-like revenues were 6.2% higher at constant currency rates, pushing adjusted operating profits up 10.9% to £551.1m. Pre-tax profits were up from £488.2m a year ago at £507.2m in 2023 and adjusted diluted earnings per share rose to 223.1p from 211.1p in 2022.

Adjusted operating margins came to 16.6%, up 60 basis points at constant currency and 30bps at actual rates, while return on invested capital rose to 20.5%, up 250bps year-on-year at constant currency and at actual rates.

The FTSE 100-listed business also said it intends to return roughly 505 of adjusted profit to shareholders, promising to pay a full-year dividend of 111.7p at a total cost of £181.2m.

Chief executive André Lacroix said: "Based on our positive momentum, we expect the group will deliver a robust performance in 2024 with mid-single digit LFL revenue growth at constant currency, margin progression and a strong cash flow performance. We are on track to get back to our peak margin of 17.5% and beyond in the medium term, capitalising on the revenue growth acceleration we are seeing for our ATIC solutions, our disciplined performance management and our investments in high growth and high-margin segments.

"We believe in the value of accretive disciplined capital allocation. In recognition of our highly cash-generative earnings model, our strong financial position, the board's confidence in the attractive long-term growth prospects for the group and its ability to fund continued growth investments, we are increasing our targeted dividend payout ratio to circa 65% of earnings from 2024."

As of 0910 GMT, Intertek shares were up 6.34% at 4,914.0p.

Reporting by Iain Gilbert at Sharecast.com

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Keller lifts dividend as profits soar

Geotechnical specialist contractor Keller Group more than doubled annual earnings and lifted its dividend by 20%.

Pre-tax profit for the 2023 calendar year jumped 123% £125.6m with the annual dividend lifted to 45.2p a share.

“Whilst political and macro-economic uncertainties will undoubtedly remain and impact our markets in the short term, our current level of trading together with our robust order book mean that we enter the new year with confidence,” the company said on Tuesday.

“The strong momentum of the business is encouraging and whilst inevitably there will be fluctuations across the group, our diverse revenues and improved operational delivery underpin our expectation that 2024 will be another year of underlying progress.”

Reporting by Frank Prenesti for Sharecast.com

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Apax Global Alpha net asset value stable at year-end

Apax Global Alpha reported an adjusted net asset value of €1.29bn at year-end in its 2023 results on Tuesday, down slightly from €1.30bn at the end of 2022, and translating to an adjusted net asset value per share of €2.62 or £2.27.

The FTSE 250 company said the movement in adjusted net asset value was primarily due to an increase in the net asset values of the debt and private equity portfolios, offset by dividends paid to shareholders and foreign exchange movements.

Its total net asset value return was 4.1%, or 6.1% at constant currency, with significant contribution from the debt portfolio.

Private equity performance was driven by earnings growth across the underlying portfolio companies, with an average last-12-months EBITDA growth of 18% at the end of 2023.

Throughout the year, Apax Global received €90m in distributions from the Apax funds, including from six full exits achieved at an average uplift of 20%.

Additionally, the firm deployed €95m across 10 new investments, primarily in the second half of the year.

The debt portfolio maintained a greater exposure to first-lien loans, achieving a total return of 11.8% in the year.

Despite a detailed review of the company's capital allocation policy, no changes were made, reaffirming the priority of ensuring continued cash returns to shareholders via regular dividends.

A final dividend of 5.64p per share for 2023 was determined, expected to be paid on 4 April.

In terms of board changes, Karl Sternberg joined as a non-executive director on 1 March, intending to replace Tim Breedon as chairman in the second half of the year.

At the same time, Chris Ambler retired as a director after nearly nine years in the role.

Financially, AGA was 93% invested as of 31 December, with unfunded commitments to the Apax funds reducing to €919m.

The invested portfolio was split 74% in private equity, 25% in debt investments, and 1% in derived equity positions.

Apax Global said it held €94m in cash at the end of the year.

“Over the past five years AGA has delivered an average total net asset value return of nearly 13% per annum and returned more than €300m in dividends to shareholders,” said chairman Tim Breedon.

“The NAV contribution from both the debt and private equity portfolios against the more challenging economic backdrop of 2023 highlights the strength of the company's strategy.

“With investment activity in private equity ramping up in the second half of the year, there is strong momentum across the portfolio, with Apax's focus on driving performance through operating value creation being well suited in current markets.”

At 0851 GMT, shares in Apax Global Alpha were up 0.26% at 154.6p.

Reporting by Josh White for Sharecast.com.

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Fresnillo delivers 'sound' 2023 despite profits falling 54%

Shares in Fresnillo gained on Tuesday after the Mexico-focused precious metals miner celebrated a "sound operating performance" in 2023 despite profits dropping by more than a half.

The company achieved its production guidance of 105.1m silver equivalent ounces with gold, lead and zinc all within the targeted range, though silver output was slightly below expectations.

Adjusted revenues were up 10.6% at $2.97bn in 2023, but pre-tax profit dropped 54.1% to $114m due to the impact of the revaluation of the Mexican peso against the US dollar as well as inflation headwinds.

"Fresnillo delivered a sound operating performance in 2023 despite a number of headwinds, a testament to the strength and efforts of our teams," said chief executive Octavio Alvídrez.

"At the same time, we focused on increasing productivity and raising development rates while advancing our pipeline of future projects. We continued to identify and implement cost reduction measures, as well as improve efficiency across all of our mines."

In line with its dividend policy to pay out 33% to 50% of profits attributable to equity shareholders, Fresnillo's board declared a final dividend of 4.2 cents a share, which in addition to the interim payout of 1.4 cents makes 5.6 cents for the full year, down from 16.7 cents in 2022.

The stock was up 2.,6% at 488.4p by 0956 GMT.

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