British shares slipped less than their European peers on Wednesday as gains from Whitbread helped mitigate losses from sub-prime lender Provident Financial. Before the Queen’s Speech, which will lay out the government’s legislative programme, at 1030 GMT, the FTSE 100 was down 0.3 percent. Euro zone shares fell as much as 0.93 percent. However, Provident Financial plummeted up to 20 percent after it warned that disruption from the reorganisation of its consumer credit division would weigh its results for the rest of the financial year.
Analysts at Liberum said they had been concerned about rising impairments and customer attrition in the division as the new model was implemented, but the transition was “more painful than expected.” “The sheer speed of the deterioration has taken us by surprise, particularly after a reassuring Q1 interim management statement on May 12,” they added. Its losses also weighed on Hargreaves Lansdown, the second-worst blue-chip performer.
Gains by Whitbread and Centrica helped the FTSE 100 outperform despite Provident’s fall. Costa Coffee and Premier Inn owner Whitbread was top performer among UK and European shares, up 4.5 percent after reporting sales rose 7.6 percent in the first quarter.
“If the consumer gets squeezed by inflation, then they will have to cut back, but probably more on the bigger-ticket items in the short term,” said Greg Johnson, analyst at Shore Capital. “Affordable treats, lower-ticket leisure expenditure will probably outperform bigger-ticket items such as houses.”
With most of its hotels in the UK, Whitbread was also well positioned to benefit from a potential rise in ‘staycations’, Johnson said. Energy firm Centrica rose as investors cheered the sale of its two biggest gas plants to a subsidiary of Czech energy company EPH. Mining company Fresnillo rose as gold prices ticked higher.
London-focussed housebuilder Berkeley Group was a top gainer among lacklustre mid-caps, up 2.2 percent after its full-year results beat expectations with a 53 percent increase in profits before tax. However, it warned uncertainty related to Brexit could cut into demand for houses.
“Full-year 2016/2017 is likely to represent peak profits for Berkeley Group. As had been flagged for some time, the company will see margins (currently in the mid-to-high 20s) revert to more ‘normal’ levels (below 20%),” said Colin Sheridan, analyst at Davy Research. “The results are strong, however, and the market is likely to be encouraged by comments that selling trends in London have improved into the end of the financial year,” he added.