Aviva going from ‘strength to strength’
Mark Wilson, CEO, said: “Our largest market, the UK, has gone from strength to strength, growing sales, market share and profit. For Aviva, the UK is a dependable and growing business.
“Having successfully executed our plan to strengthen the balance sheet and focus Aviva on those businesses with the strongest fundamentals, we have increased our growth ambitions. Our 2017 results provide evidence that we are capable of delivering consistent growth in operating EPS [earnings per share] and dividends.”
The company expects to reduce its debt by £900m, return £500m to shareholder and have £600m available to buy other businesses.
The 2017 total dividend per share is up 18% to 27.4p (2016: 23.3 pence).
Alliance Trust reduces ATS value
ATS had a challenging year incurring significant costs to resolve customer service issues following the integration of the Stocktrade operations in Dundee.
In 2017, ATS generated an operating loss of £6.1m before exceptional expenses. ATS has written down the value of its intangible assets, related to the Stocktrade business, which has resulted in an exceptional charge of £13.2m. After this charge, ATS’s loss for the year was £19.3m.
The group said in its annual statement: “With an encouraging start to our new investment approach and a continuation of our progressive dividend we believe the foundations are now firmly in place for Alliance Trust to deliver strong and sustainable performance for our shareholders for generations to come.”
Chairman Lord Smith of Kelvin, said: “This has been a transformational year for the Trust.
“We implemented our new investment approach – a global alliance of high-conviction equity managers – on 1 April 2017 and, in its early days, the approach is delivering encouraging results and outperformance.
“We are delighted that as we move into our 130th year we are continuing the Trust’s progressive dividend policy and believe the foundations are now firmly in place for Alliance Trust to deliver strong and sustainable performance for our shareholders for generations to come.”
The company announced a proposed final dividend of 3.29p, bringing total dividend to 13.16p for 2017, up 3% on 2016 dividends, building on a 50 year track-record of dividend growth.
Countrywide shares slump after dreadful year
Estate agent Countrywide is pledging to go ‘back to basics’ after a dreadful year which saw it post a loss of £208.1m.
Shares in the company fell 15% in early trade.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: “Worryingly the company is starting 2018 with a pipeline significantly below the level it had had the start of 2017.
“A restructuring launched in 2015 has proved unsuccessful and its attempt to respond to the threat posed by industry disruptor Purplebricks has also fallen flat. The company has admitted its hybrid digital offering led to ‘confusion’ for customers and confirms it has withdrawn this offering.
“Any turnaround will take place against a very unhelpful backdrop with the latest data from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showing a drop in the number of new buyers registering with agents for the 11th consecutive month in February.
“The shares could well drift lower until the company unveils full year guidance and a recovery plan alongside its first half results.”