© REUTERS

Fewer happy returns have lifted Asos, with the online fashion retailer saying full-year earnings will be at the top end of current market expectations thanks to improved festive season trading.

Trading in the last four months of 2020 “surpassed our expectations, driven by investment in product, pricing and marketing and stronger than anticipated consumer demand for our products,” Asos said. It reported revenue growth of 23 per cent for the period.

Renewed social restrictions also resulted in a resumption of lower returns rates. The company gave an unchanged outlook for the remainder its financial year ending in August. However, with restrictions likely to be in place for the balance of the first half, the benefit to earnings from Covid-19 for the period will be at least £40m, part-offset by £15m of Brexit-related costs, Asos said.

“Given a 2021 pre-tax profit market range of £115m to £170m and consensus of £141m, this implies circa 20 per cent upgrades today,” said Jefferies analyst Andrew Wade, who repeated “buy” advice on the stock. “Although much of the upgrade is one-off in nature, we are encouraged by Asos' strong underlying trading trend and retain our positive stance.”

Briefly

Housebuilder Persimmon said demand for new homes had remained resilient throughout the second half of 2020, though weekly sales in the final quarter had trended back towards normalised levels from the elevated rates seen through the summer. Its average selling price for the full year rose 7 per cent to £230,500.

Howden Joinery has upgraded 2020 profit guidance for the second time in as many months. The builders’ merchant said in a brief update that stronger than anticipated trading meant the full-year profit before tax will be around £185m, versus its previous target of approximately £167m.

Paving slab maker Marshalls said it will reinstate dividends, beginning with a final dividend for the full year 2020. Since the half year, revenue growth has progressively improved and sales in the most recent months were ahead of the 2019 out-turn, it said. 

Just Eat Takeaway said it had handled 57 per cent more deliveries year-on-year in the fourth quarter as demand accelerated on lockdown restrictions. Orders were up 56 per cent in Germany, by 58 per cent in the UK and by 39 per cent in the Netherlands as the company said it had made “significant market gains in most of our countries”. Guidance for a full-year adjusted ebitda margin of approximately 10 per cent was slightly below market expectations, however.

William Hill reported a 9 per cent increase in total net revenue for the fourth quarter. The bookmaker said its takeover by US casino group Caesars Entertainment should clear regulatory hurdles and close by the second half of 2021, possibly as early as March.

Spectris, the precision instrument maker, said fourth-quarter trading had been stronger than management’s expectations particularly in December. As a result the company expects to post an 11 per cent fall in like-for-like sales for 2020 and an adjusted operating profit at the top end of consensus forecasts.

Hipgnosis, the ultra-acquisitive music royalties fund, said it has bought the catalogue of Colombian singer and songwriter Shakira. The deal on undisclosed terms is Hipgnosis’s fourth major purchase of 2021 so far.

Take-Two Interactive has formally quit the auction to buy Codemasters with the US video game maker saying it had allowed its offer to lapse. Take-Two was outbid by Electronic Arts, which offered £725m for the racing games designer.

Qinetiq, Big Yellow, PageGroup, Frontier Developments, Victoria and Liontrust Asset Management also provide trading updates.

Beyond the Square Mile 

UniCredit sounds out Andrea Orcel (right) and Tidjane Thiam as its chief executive hunt narrows © FT montage; Bloomberg

UniCredit has approached some of Europe’s top available bankers including Andrea Orcel, Tidjane Thiam and Martin Blessing as it looks to appoint a new chief executive after a dispute over the Italian lender’s future. The board has been sounding out candidates and will make a decision within the next four weeks, according to people familiar with the process.

Canadian convenience store group Alimentation Couche-Tard has approached France’s Carrefour about a takeover in a deal that would combine two retail groups jointly worth more than $50bn. If completed the deal would push Couche-Tard, which is based in suburban Montreal, further into Europe and Latin America.

Facebook is scrambling to deal with a sudden competitive threat to its messaging platform WhatsApp after a change to its terms of service sparked privacy concerns and prompted users to turn to rivals such as Signal and Telegram in droves.

Essential comment before you go

Brooke Masters Now that windows have been broken, offices looted and people have died, big US corporations can’t move fast enough to decry last week’s attack on the Capitol building. Many companies now claim to be looking beyond pure profits to a larger social purpose. The next few months will put that to the test.

Lombard With investment guidance suggesting 2021 earnings at The Hut Group are likely to be barely better than break-even, investors have little reason now to rush in.

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