It’s one of those days that investors, analysts and financial journalists detest.
No fewer than 13 members of the FTSE 100 published their half year results on Thursday – while a couple of dozen more from the FTSE 250, the mid-cap index, were also reporting. It’s a similar story on continental Europe.
Such coincidences are tiresome but do not happen by accident. Because so many companies have December year-ends, the half-year finishes in June, after which public companies are required to report their results.
Once upon a time, companies used to leave it until as late as September, reckoning that a lot of shareholders would be away during late July and August and so would miss hearing important details about recent trading.
However, the listings authorities now require companies to publish their results more speedily these days, in order to reduce the risk of a false market. And with most companies preferring to publish results on a Wednesday or a Thursday – Mondays and Tuesdays require executives to rehearse their presentations to shareholders over the weekend – the result is days like today.
It is not an ideal scenario. Results are published on the stock exchange’s regulatory news service at 7am, giving analysts just an hour to chew over the salient points in them, before the market opens at 8am.
That serves nobody when companies in the same sector are reporting on the same day.
That said, there is a lot of news in Thursday’s batch of results.
By far the most headline-grabbing update comes from AstraZeneca.
The UK’s second-largest drug-maker admitted that a treatment for lung cancer on which it has been working has not proved as effective in clinical trials as had been hoped.
Shares of the company have fallen by more than 15% on the news as investors had pinned a lot of hopes on the so-called MYSTIC study.
This will pile pressure onto Pascal Soriot, AZ’s well-regarded chief executive, who three years ago fought off an unwanted $118bn takeover by the US drugs giant Pfizer in what was seen, at the time, as a test of Britain’s willingness to prevent its top companies being taken over by foreign buyers.
At the time, Mr Soriot promised investors he would get AZ’s shares up to the £55 level that Pfizer were offering, with 2017 seen as a key year due to the indicators it would supply about the profitability of the drugs being developed by AZ.
The other large company earning much attention is Lloyds Banking Group which, as Sky’s Mark Kleinman reported on Wednesday night, has disappointed investors by announcing yet more provisions related to past misconduct.
In addition to another £700m related to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance, there’s also £283m in compensation to mortgage customers who ran up fees after falling behind with their payments.
All of this has somewhat taken the sheen off the bank’s biggest half-year profit, £2.5bn, since the financial crisis erupted in 2008.
There have also been a number of companies that have surprised to the upside. Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company and owner of brands such as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Smirnoff, Gordon’s and Captain Morgan, saw its underlying operating profits on a full year basis rise by 20% to £3.6bn, having enjoyed growth in all parts of the world for the first time in quite a while.
Its shares are up by more than 8% after it delighted investors with news of a £1.5bn share buy-back.
Also in vogue is Anglo-American, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, which cheered shareholders by resuming dividend payments following a return to profit.
Similarly, Relx, the Anglo-Dutch information provider that was once known as publishing group Reed Elsevier, has won support following a 5% rise in underlying half year operating profits to €1.3bn.
Other major companies reporting include British American Tobacco, the world’s second largest tobacco company and Royal Dutch Shell, whose second-quarter earnings more than doubled following the rebound in crude prices and a solid performance in its refining and petrochemicals operations.
It’s tempting on days like these to try and find a common theme in the results and look for clues about the overall health of the UK economy.
This isn’t really possible today because so many of those reporting – Diageo, Shell, BAT, Smith & Nephew and so on – are big global businesses for whom the UK only forms a tiny part of their operations.
For a closer look at the UK, you have to study the more domestic FTSE 250, where winners reporting today, at least so far as their share price is concerned, include Ladbroke Corals, Thomas Cook and the coatings company Bodycote International.
But again, here, it’s hard to divine too much about the UK economy. Mid-caps reporting today whose shares are lower include Just Eat, pumps manufacturer Weir Group and metallurgy specialist Vesuvius.
One theme is common however. Countrywide, the UK’s largest listed estate agency, and Foxtons, its rival, have both seen their share prices fall on the back of disappointing results. The UK’s housing market is clearly seizing up.
:: Ivan Menezes, chief executive of Diageo, is a guest on Ian King Live tonight on Sky News at 1830.