UK supermarket data and US economic view from Ashtead and Ferguson in focus

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Come Tuesday, Brexit talks are still likely to be making headlines ahead of the year-end exit data and this week’s European council meeting and summit of EU leaders on Friday.


Investors will also be able to chew over some UK supermarket industry data and the corporate includes updates from US-focused pair Ashtead and Ferguson.


Households already started their Christmas preparations weeks ago, according to data from Kantar a month earlier, which showed spending by shoppers in supermarkets rose 9.3% during the 12 weeks to November 1, little changed from the 9.4% growth reported a month earlier.


Kantar said the supermarkets’ premium own-label products were seeing increased demand, ahead of the normal peak in December.


The online grocery joint venture between Ocado Group PLC (LON:OCDO) and Marks & Spencer Group PLC (LON:MKS) was again the fastest-growing retailer, with sales up by 36.1% over the 12-week period, increasing its market share to 1.7%.


Wm Morrisons Supermarkets PC (LON:MRW) led the big four grocers, growing sales by 11.4%, and expanding its share for the fifth month in a row, to 10.2%.


Tesco PLC (LON:TSCO), which grew by 9.1%, maintained its share at 27.0%, while Sainsbury’s sales were up 7.6% and its market share currently dipped to 15.3%.


US view from Ashtead and Ferguson


Construction equipment hire group Ashtead Group PLC (LON:AHT) is due to post half-year results on Tuesday, having said revenue and profits in the first quarter fell 6% and 38% respectively.


While the FTSE 100 group reported lower profits because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it still managed to generate a record GBP447mln of free cash flow.


Management said in an update in September that as long as there are no widespread shutdowns in the US from a significant second wave of COVID-19, they were expecting full-year rental revenue to fall by “mid to high single digits”, excluding currency swings, with annual free cash flow seen topping GBP1bn.


The board is also mulling the “appropriate time” to resume its share buyback programme, alongside its dividend which was maintained back at the full-year results in June.


Analysts expect Ashtead’s second-quarter pre-tax profit to fall by 19.9% to GBP297mln.


Ashtead’s shares are up 36% since the start of the year, while fellow US-focused FTSE 100 constituent Ferguson PLC (LON:FERG) is up around 21%.


The plumbers’ merchant formerly known as Wolseley, which gets over 90% of its revenues from the USA and Canada, will be reporting on trading for the period from August to the end of October, the first quarter of its financial year.


Having fallen over 15% in April, revenue trends sequentially improved in the final three months of its past year, before returning to organic revenue growth in August.


Boss Kevin Murphy said in September’s final results that while remaining cautious on the outlook for the year as a whole, “the business is in good shape and well prepared to address any further market related disruption”.


Major announcements expected on Tuesday December 8:


Trading updates: Ferguson PLC (LON:FERG)


Interims: Ashtead Group PLC (LON:AHT), Begbies Traynor Group PLC (LON:BEG), GB Group PLC (LON:GBG), Incanthera PLC (AQSE:INC), SDCL Energy Efficiency Income Trust (LON:SEIT), Solid State PLC (LON:SOLI), ULS Technology PLC (LON:ULS), Vianet Group PLC (LON:VNET)


Finals: Numis Corporation PLC (LON:NUM), Renew Holdings PLC (LON:RNWH)

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