What to Watch: Sainsbury's profits marked down, Barratt sales drop and Woodford fund crashes

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Sainsbury's marked down its profits for the previous year. Photo: PA

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Sainsbury’s shares slide as profits marked down

Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) saw its shares slide 2.5% on Wednesday morning after it marked down its profits for 2018-19 as part of an accounting shakeup.

The company said in a filing on Wednesday its pre-tax profits were £37m lower than previously for the last financial year up to 9 March, down from £239m to £202m.

It comes after the company adopted updated international standards for how assets, liabilities and income statements are presented.

It also said its net assets were £673m lower than stated previously for 2018-19, while its retail net debts faced a significant hike from £1.14bn to £6.84bn. The restated balance sheet included recognising £4.99bn in right-of-use assets but lease liabilities of £5.82bn.

Britain’s biggest housebuilder sees income dip despite more sales

The UK’s biggest housebuilder Barratt Developments said on Wedneday its sales had dipped 2.4% to £3.07m year-on-year.

The lower income came in spite of rising sales volumes at Barratt (BDEV.L), with total forward sales of 12,963 in the year to 13 October, up from 12,903 the previous year.

The housebuilder said it had increased volumes “whilst maintaining our industry-leading quality,” suggesting a focus on better-quality homes had hit its margins.

It said it expected sale volumes would grow “towards the lower end” of its medium-term target range this year.

A longstanding undersupply of new homes in Britain, government support for new builds and a “positive lending environment” meant the fundamentals of the market remained “attractive” despite Brexit, according to the housebuilder.

David Thomas, chief executive, said the company’s strong balance sheet and cash position gave it “resilience and flexibility” amid political and economic uncertainty.

One Woodford fund crashes and another frozen after founder’s exit

One fund run by the embattled money manager Neil Woodford has been frozen and another saw its shares crash after his dramatic exit from both funds on Tuesday.

Withdrawals from the Woodford Income Focus Fund were suspended on Wednesday morning, while the Woodford Patient Capital Trust (WCPT.L) saw its shares plummet by 6.7%.

It comes a day after Woodford was spectacularly sacked by his third fund, the flagship Woodford Equity Income Fund, on Tuesday after it was plunged into chaos by a liquidity crunch and suspended withdrawals in June.

After his sacking he then announced he was shutting down his investment management firm, and resigning as fund manager from his two other funds.

It marks another dramatic chapter in the fall from grace of Woodford, one seen as one of Britain’s most successful money managers.

Asos blames warehouse woes for plummeting profits

The online clothing giant Asos (ASC.L) on Wednesday said its full-year pre-tax profits fell by 68% to £33m, saying it was not “adequately prepared” for complications over its the restructuring of its warehouse network.

The firm had signalled that the troubled warehouse reorganisation, which curbed stock availability in both the US and Europe, would hurt its bottom line.

“The huge investment we undertook in transitioning us into a business with scale and operational capability in both the EU and US has been more challenging than we foresaw,” the company said in a statement.

National Express eyes Morocco expansion

Shares in the British bus group National Express (NEX.L) rose 0.7% as it announced it will run more coaches in Morocco than Britain next year with a new contract in the North African country.

It signed an £860m deal to run bus services in Casablanca for 15 years, with its Spanish and Moroccan division providing around 700 buses in the country’s largest city.

It already has hundreds of buses operating in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, and won another contract in Boston in the US last week.

European markets await Brexit deal talks

European markets tread ground or dipped on Wednesday morning after a rally on Tuesday, with ongoing talks over Britain’s departure from the EU on investors’ minds as they reach a crunch stage before a European leaders’ summit this week.

Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) and sterling both weakened on reports the talks could break down, with the leading UK index down down more than 2% at around 10.30am.

The Euronext 100 (^N100) was also 0.2% lower, the French CAC 40 (^FCHI) was down 0.3% and the German DAX (^GDAXI) index was flat.

Stocks were mixed overnight in Asia, with Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) up 1.2%, China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) down 0.4% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) up 0.6%.

What to expect in the US

US stocks also looked set for a drop on the opening bell, with Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) down 0.4%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) down 0.3% and S&P500 futures (ES=F) 0.3% lower.