What to Watch: French Connection sales fall, Wizz Air oil impact, and Ocado soars

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Wizz Air had sought to insulate itself against oil price volatility before the Saudi attacks. Photo: PA

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

French Connection warns on ‘challenging’ conditions

French Connection (FCCN.L) shares plunged on Tuesday morning as it reported a 12.2% slide in revenue and an operating loss of £4.7m in the first half of the year.

Its losses narrowed from £5.8m a year earlier, and the company’s retail sales in stores and online in UK and Europe were up 1.4%, compared to a 7% decline a year ago.

But Stephen Marks, chairman and chief executive, warned retail conditions “will continue to be challenging,” and its shares were down 12% in early morning trading in London.

The company’s group revenue fell to £51m in the six months to 31 July, down from £58.1m a year earlier. The group blamed store closures and a shift in wholesale shipment timings for the decline. It said it remained on track for its full-year expectations.

The company had been seeking offers for a sale, which was expected in the first half of the year but is now not expected to be completed until the end of the year “given the active ongoing discussions.”

Wizz Air insulated against Saudi oil shock

Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) has reassured investors of steps it has taken to insulate itself against surging oil prices after the attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

The low-cost airline said it had already “taken advantage of lower fuel prices over the summer,” increasing its hedge position on its fuel requirements for the year ahead.

Airlines are particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility and typically offset risks by hedging, paying a premium for the right to buy oil at pre-agreed prices if needed in future.

Wizz Air, the biggest budget airline in eastern and central Europe, said it had hedged 77% of its jet fuel needs for the next seven months.

Ocado sales keep soaring

Ocado sales have soared. Photo: PA

Ocado (OCDO.L) shares were up 0.9% at around 9.40am in London after it reported a leap in sales growth, with retail revenue up 11.4% in its latest quarter.

The online grocery and technology firm saw its retail sales reach £386.3m in the 13 weeks to 1 September, up from £346.9m a year earlier.

READ MORE: Lidl and Ocado soar as major supermarkets lose market share

The trading statement is the first since Ocado completed its joint venture deal with Marks & Spencer, whose products are due to replace Waitrose products by September 2020 at the latest.

It comes as separate Kantar figures suggest Ocado had the fastest rise in sales of any UK supermarket in the year to 8 September. Ocado’s ice cream, cheese and sparkling wine saw some of the fastest growth in sales, according to the market research firm.

Thomas Cook buys time for rescue deal

Shares dived in travel operator Thomas Cook (TCG.L) after it delayed a crunch vote by its creditors due this week until 27 September, as it seeks more time to win backing for a rescue deal.

The world’s oldest travel firm agreed a rescue package with Chinese group Fosun Tourism in August, after struggling with heavy competition and high debt levels.

The deal would see Fosun, whose parent owns Club Med, inject new cash in return for at least 75% of its tour operator business and 25% of its airline.

But the recapitalisation plan needs sign-off by Thomas Cook’s lending banks and bondholders, who are also expected to put up fresh funds.

The plans would also significantly dilute the value of shares held by the company’s existing shareholders.

Its shares were down 5.5%% at around 10am in London.

Sirius Minerals shares tank as Yorkshire mine funds in doubt

Shares in Sirius Minerals (SXX.L) nosedived by as much as 64% in early trading after the company warned that it could not raise the $500m it needs to continue building a huge fertiliser mine in Yorkshire.

Shares in the FTSE 250 company were down by almost 50% at 9.30am, meaning that almost £355m had been wiped off the company’s value.

The company said that “market conditions” meant it would no longer be able to issue a $500m high-yield junk bond, which it needed to do to unlock $2.5bn in funding from JPMorgan.

European and Asian markets mixed

European markets were mixed on Friday, with the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) up 0.2%, the Euronext 100 (^N100) up 0.1% and the FTSE 250 (^FTMC) down 0.1%.

France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up 0.1%, and the German DAX (^GDAXI) was down 0.2%.

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) was up 0.1%, and China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) was down 1.7%, while the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) was down 1.2%.

What to expect in the US

US stocks also looked set for a lower open. Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) and Dow Jones futures (YM=F) were both down 0.1%, while S&P500 futures (ES=F) was flat.