What to Watch: Printer maker's stock jams, Pearson crashes on US profit warning, and AA's deal with Uber

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Printer maker Xaar's stock crashed over 40% after falling to a loss, announcing a 'painful' restructure, and a management exodus. Photo: Xaar

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

Printer maker’s stock jams

Stock in inkjet printer maker Xaar (XAR.L) crashed over 40% on Thursday after falling to a loss and announcing a “painful” restructure.

Xaar made a loss of £2.6m in the first six months of the year, down from a profit of £19.1m in the same period last year, and revenue declined by 35% to £22.5m.

The Cambridge-based company also announced that it was throwing in the towel on efforts to commercialise so-called “thin film” printing technology, once touted as the future of the company.

“It is with considerable reluctance that we have taken the decision to cease all Thin Film activities in the Printhead business, but without a strategic investment partner it becomes, by ourselves, unaffordable to continue,” CEO Doug Edwards said.

“This decision and the associated restructuring, although painful, will result in a substantial improvement in profitability and operating cashflow for the company in the coming year."

Xaar announced that Edwards will also be leaving the company at the end of the year, along with the business’ chairman, chief financial officer, and a non-executive director. Shares in Xaar were down 42%.

Pearson crashes on US profit warning

Shares in education group Pearson (PSON.L) crashed 18% after the company warned that a slowdown in the US would hit profits this year.

Pearson said that “weaker than expected trading in our US Higher Education Courseware business” meant profit was now set to be at the lower end of forecasts. Revenue is also likely to be flat on last year.

Sales of course books in the US fell by 10% in the first half of the year. Pearson blamed lower college enrolment and a faster than expected shift to online resources at the expense of print products.

“Whilst difficult in the short term this places more importance on our work to remake this part of Pearson and we are exploring new ways of deploying our new technology platform so that we can offer students highly affordable, convenient, adaptive, digital courseware,” chief executive John Fallon said.

“We still expect revenue across Pearson as a whole to stabilise this year, with encouraging growth in many parts of the company.”

AA strikes deal with Uber

Roadside assistance specialist AA (AA.L) has struck a deal to partner with Uber.

AA will provide roadside assistance to Uber drivers in 40 cities across the UK and drivers will also use AA for MOTs, repairs, and maintenance.

The three-year deal covers 65,000 Uber drivers. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The AA is putting Service and Innovation at the heart of what we do,” AA CEO Simon Breakwell said. “This unique cutting-edge partnership combines those two elements.”

DFS sales soar

DFS Furniture (DFS.L) is having no trouble shifting sofas, as the company reported a 31% jump underlying annual profits.

DFS made a pre-tax profit of £50.2m and sales rose by 5.7%.

However, the business cautioned over “subdued” recent trading amid Brexit uncertainty and a slowdown in the housing market.

“Recent trading conditions have reflected the increasingly uncertain political and economic backdrop, and we have seen reduced levels of footfall across all our brands, which we attribute to lower levels of consumer confidence and housing transactions, the two key drivers of the upholstery market,” CEO Tim Stacey said.

“Although we have had some success in driving conversion to mitigate this trend, we note that over the first twelve weeks of the financial year order intake levels have been subdued.

“Our financial performance in the remainder of the first half, and the whole financial year ahead, will inevitably be dependent on broader political and economic developments, and at this stage it is difficult to predict what will happen specifically within the upholstery market.”

Shares were down 1.3%.

BA counts cost of strikes

British Airways (BA) has issued a profit warning after it was hit by an unprecedented pilot strike and a threatened walkout by Heathrow airport workers.

The airline’s owner International Airlines Group (IAG.L) said the two industrial disputes had cost it £150m and would lower its pre-tax profits by £190m in 2019 compared to last year.

Shares in IAG tumbled 3.9% on the announcement on Thursday morning, making it one of the biggest fallers on FTSE index of Britain’s top companies.

The company (IAG.L) was forced to cancel more than 4,500 flights after many of its pilots walked out in a row over pay earlier this month. Ground staff employed by Heathrow Airport also threatened action too in September and caused further disruption, but it was called off after an improved pay offer.

More pain for Woodford investors

Investors who placed money with struggling fund manager Neil Woodford face more pain, after his listed fund took another write-down on its investments.

Woodford Patient Capital Trust (WPCT.L) said in an update on Thursday that valuers had written down the fund’s investment in three companies. The write-down will knock 3.1p per share off the trust’s net asset value, equivalent to £33 million. The written down basket of investments is now work around £590m.

Shares in the listed investment trust fell 4.6% at the open in London.

Woodford Patient Capital has now suffered three write-downs in the last five weeks, knocking a collective £105m off the trust’s net asset value. The series of write-downs comes on top of the trouble at Woodford’s Equity Income fund, a separate vehicle that was forced to suspend withdrawals in June.

Fall in car production accelerates

UK carmakers have seen the steepest drop in production this year so far since 2011, according to new figures.

The number of cars rolling off factory lines across the UK plummeted by 17% in the year to August compared with a year earlier, the largest fall in eight years.

Just under 867,000 cars have been manufactured in 2019, according to leading industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It is also the first time in five years the number of cars produced has dropped below 1 million.

Markets rebound

Global markets were rebounding on Thursday, after the sharp sell-offs seen on Wednesday.

Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was up by 1%, France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up by 0.8%, Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was up by 0.5%, and the Euronext 100 (^N100) was up by 0.7%.

The pound was under pressure in early trade an analysts said this was boosting the FTSE 100. Companies listed on the index book around 70% of their earnings in dollars, meaning a weak pound flatters share prices.

“One beneficiary of the pullback in the pound is the FTSE 100 with the benchmark pushing to the upside and trading close to levels not seen since the start of August, said David Cheetham, chief market analyst at trading platform XTB.

“The breadth of the gains are also worth mentioning with only 10 stocks failing to join in the broader rally at the time of writing.”

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) closed up by 0.1%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) was up by 0.3%, and China’s Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was down by 0.8%

What to expect in the US

US stocks future are pointing to marginally higher open. S&P500 futures (ES=F) were up by 0.2%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) were up by 0.2%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were up by 0.1%.