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Bank holds rate; Gym Group expects to retain members

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4.30pm: FTSE edges up

The FTSE 100 ended the session 17 points (0.25%) higher at 6,779.68 after the Bank of England calmed investors’ concerns over the outlook (see below).

Ocado slumped 4.94% even though the online grocer reported a 40% rise in revenue for the 13 weeks to the end of February.

Transport operator National Express fell 0.89% after saying it swung to a loss in 2020.

Housebuilder Crest Nicholson was knocked 4.7% lower by a downgrade to ‘sell’ from ‘neutral’ at UBS.

OSB Group slid 4.72% after the bank revealed it might have to write off as much as £28.6m because of possible customer fraud.

Standard Life Aberdeen gained 2.2% after an upgrade to ‘buy’ at Deutsche Bank.

2pm: BBC shake-up

Scotland may get new soap as BBC relocates operations out of London.

Full story here

Noon: BoE holds interest rates

Bank of England

Bank of England policymakers decided to keep the interest rate at 0.1% and bond buying at £895 billion.

The Bank’s monetary policy committee said it intends to continue with a loose monetary policy “until there is clear evidence that significant progress is being made in eliminating spare capacity and achieving the 2% inflation target sustainably.”

It believes the rate of inflation – currently at 0.7% – will hit the target during the spring because of the recent rise in energy prices.

The Bank dampened fears over the UK’s poor export performance last month, when shipments to the EU fell by 44%. 

It said trade would return to normality next month once stockpiling had been worked through, allaying concerns that the UK’s exit from the EU could have caused long term problems. 

9.30am: Cut in electric vehicle support

The government has been criticised for cutting grants aimed at encouraging people to buy electric vehicles.

Full story here

8.45am: Investors await BoE decision

London stocks were little changed in early trade before dipping slightly as investors digested a dovish statement from the Federal Reserve ahead of the latest policy announcement from the Bank of England at lunchtime.

The FTSE 100 was trading down 13 points at 6,749.45.

7am: Gym Group

Gym group

Gym Group, the operator of 186 gyms, said it expects 97% of current members to return as soon as possible, with 75% stating that fitness will be more important to them than it was pre-COVID.

The company lost more than 30,000 members during the current lockdown but said it was seeing higher levels of membership retention compared to previous closure periods. As at 28 February membership was 547,000 from 578,000 on 31 December.

It said it had been a year of “significant disruption” in which the company’s gyms were required by the UK Government to close for 45% of the trading days due to COVID-19.

Gyms in England are expected to re-open on 12 April and in in Scotland on 26 April.

Three new sites open in April and one in May, with an additional four starting on-site imminently. In addition, the growing pipeline has a further six leases exchanged with several more in advanced negotiations.

Revenue for the year to 31 December was down 47.4% from £153.1m to £80.5m. Group adjusted EBITDA minus normalised rent fell to a loss of £10.2m from a profit of £48.5m in 2019.

Chairman Penny Hughes said: “Whilst our financial condition has been impacted by the pandemic – with higher levels of debt and lower membership than planned – we remain as confident as ever in our proposition.”

Ocado Retail delivering on growth

Ocado-van-Percy-Pig

Online supermarket company Ocado Retail, a joint venture between Ocado Group and Marks & Spencer, posted a 40% rise in sales for the 13 weeks to 28 February as more households had their groceries delivered during the current national Covid lockdown.

Revenue over the period, which included the Christmas holidays, came in at £599m against £428.8m a year earlier, the company said.

It plans to open opening two standard-sized customer fulfilment centres this fiscal year. A minimum of 12 micro sites are being sought, mainly in London, to support the roll-out of the Ocado Zoom immediacy concept which offers deliveries within one hour of ordering.

Bank tipped to sit tight

Bank of England interest rate setters are expected to leave policy unchanged amid hopes that the Covid vaccine rollout will help the economy bounce back faster than first thought.

Economists expect the Bank to keep rates at the record low of 0.1% and hold its quantitative easing programme at £895 billion after official data showed a smaller-than-feared hit to the economy from the latest lockdown.

Markets

Asian shares and US stock futures rose after the Federal Reserve projected a rapid jump in US economic growth this year as the COVID-19 crisis eases.

While inflation is expected to reach 2.4% this year, above the central bank’s 2% target, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell called it a temporary surge that will not change the Fed’s pledge to keep its benchmark overnight interest rate near zero.

The Nikkei share average jumped 1.53%.

On Wall Street the S&P 500, up 0.29%, and Dow Jones Industrial Average, 0.58% higher, closed at record highs, while the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.4%.

Oil: Brent crude fell 0.46% to $67.69 a barrel, and US crude was down by 0.45% to $64.31.



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