The FTSE 100 is down 0.2 per cent in early trading. Among the companies with reports and trading updates today are Topps Tiles, Hilton Food Group, Peel Hunt and Wizz Air. Read the Wednesday 3 April Business Live blog below.

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Billionaire Joe Lewis could get just 18 months in US jail

British billionaire Joe Lewis could serve less than 18 months in a US prison after pleading guilty to passing inside information to his private pilots and girlfriend, American prosecutors said.

Lewis, 87, will be sentenced this week after he was charged last year for sharing tips about four publicly traded companies between 2019 and 2021.

‘Hilton Food Group will be eagerly awaiting the first interest rate cut’

Adam Vettese, analyst at investment platform eToro:

‘Recovery has been a bit of a slog for Hilton Food Group but they seem to be turning the corner with a little more meat on the bone in this latest set of results.

‘Profits are in line with expectations as cost pressures continue to ease, runaway inflation caused big problems for the firm with raw material prices going through the roof and high rates hiking up financing costs. The company did well to consolidate during this period, adjusting to changing tastes and preferences, particularly in the meat alternatives market.

‘Hilton Food Group will be eagerly awaiting the first rate cut if it comes in June to take some more pressure off but despite the challenging conditions have still managed to raise the dividend by 7.7%. Shares have had a solid start to the year but there is still some way to go to reach the 2022 high a little over 40% away, investors may well see some value in a recovery play here given its relatively low prices against historic multiples.’

Topps Tiles warns ‘subdued’ demand will continue to squeeze profits

Topps Tiles has cautioned shareholders that ‘subdued’ repairs and maintenance demand has ‘persisted’ into 2024, prompting lower sales and sluggish footfall in stores.

With many Britons shunning ‘bigger ticket projects’ and home improvements, the group’s sales came in 11.3 per cent lower year-on-year in the 26 weeks to 30 March.

The group warned its profits for the first half of the year would be hit by the ‘weaker market, the timing of the holiday pay accrual and seasonally higher energy usage in the period’.

Market open: FTSE 100 down 0.2%; FTSE 250 off 0.2%

London-listed stocks are trading lower at the open, mirroring a global market retreat as investors weighed chances of a more cautious approach to interest rate reductions, while Dr. Martens is up strongly on scope for a strategic review.

Topps Tiles is down 3.4 per cenr after the tile retailer flagged subdued demand in the domestic repair and maintenance sector in 2024, with lower volumes impacting its half-year profit.

Dr. Martens has climbed 5.3 per cent following a Reuters report that investment firm Marathon Partners Equity Management had called on the boot maker to initiate a strategic review that could lead to a sale.

The broader personal goods index jumped 1.1 per cent on the news, leading sectoral gains.

Later in the day, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is set to speak, which could offer fresh clues into the US central bank’s rate cut timeline.

Shell fights climate ruling: Oil giant seeks to overturn court order

Shell yesterday launched an appeal against a landmark climate ruling that ordered the energy giant to slash carbon emissions.

The oil and gas major argued that the order lacks a legal basis and weakens the fight against climate change.

Hilton Food: Improved financial position sees management eye expansion

Milo Bussell, associate analyst of consumer & media at Edison Group:

‘Hilton Food Group’s FY23 results demonstrated a robust revenue performance despite the inflationary backdrop.

‘Profitability was significantly boosted due to the recovery in Seafood completing ahead of schedule.

‘The robust performance enabled a 7.7% increase in the total dividend to 32.0p (FY22: 29.7p).

‘Despite a persistently challenging backdrop, management notes trading in 2024 has so far been in line with expectations.

‘Given the improvement in the financial position, management noted it would explore greater geographic expansion or potential M&A alongside opportunities with existing partners.’

Tesla slams into reverse as sales fall for first time in four years

More than £20billion was wiped off the value of Tesla last night after it reported the first fall in car sales for four years.

The US electric car maker, led by billionaire Elon Musk, delivered 386,810 vehicles in the three months to the end of March.

Calvin Klein-owner PVR rocked by sales slump as weak demand hits fashion firms

Shares in the owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger tumbled 23 per cent as weak demand hits the business.

PVH, which is listed in New York, warned of a 6-to-7 per cent fall in revenues this year following a slowdown across North America and Europe.  That compares with a 2 per cent rise last year. It also said profits would be lower than hoped.

Peel Hunt heads for a loss on low trading volumes

Peel Hunt expects to post a full-year loss as the brokerage suffers the impact of higher cost pressures and weaker trading volumes.

Revenue for the year is expected to come in 4 per cent higher year-on-year at £85.5million, driven largely by investment banking with merger and acquisition revenues ‘accounting for a large proportion’ of fees.

Looking foward it said headwinds look set to continue ‘until there are meaningful signs of recovery in the UK economy and fund outflows reverse’.

It added: ‘However, we continue to be active in public M&A, with financial advisory mandates on both the buy and sell side.

‘Whilst IPO activity in the UK remains muted, there has been more activity in Europe and sentiment towards IPOs is improving in the UK, with investors increasingly willing to engage in relation to high quality companies.’

British manufacturers bounce back: Sector clocks up its first month of growth for nearly two years

British manufacturers have clocked up their first month of growth for nearly two years as the economy bounces back.

In another sign last year’s recession is firmly over, S&P Global said its index of activity in UK factories rose from 47.5 in February to 50.3 in March.

It was the first reading over the crucial 50 level that separates growth from decline for 20 months.

Hilton Food sales near £4bn

FTSE 250 meat processing and packing services Hilton Food Group saw sales near £4billion last year as its core business continued to perform well and its seafood category returned to operating profitability.

Revenues grew 3.9 per cent to £3.99billion, with volumes up 0.7 per cent, driving statutory operating profits 59.4 per cent higher to £86.1million.

Boss Steve Murrells said:

‘Over the past year we’ve remained focused on executing our strategy which has resulted in a good performance against a challenging market. I am particularly pleased with the results in our seafood category, returning to full year operating profitability following a successful turnaround.

‘Our core meat category performed strongly and we worked closely with customers to offer the highest quality and most relevant food products to consumers.’

Royal Mail names Heathrow exec Emma Gilthorpe as new boss after hiking price of stamps for third time in a year

Royal Mail has named a senior Heathrow executive as its next boss – just as it hikes the price of stamps for the third time in a year.

Emma Gilthorpe, who is the airport’s chief operating officer, will join the delivery group on May 1, parent company International Distribution Services (IDS) said.

She will then take over the Royal Mail arm of the business in the summer.

Gilthorpe succeeds interim boss Martin Seidenberg.

Topps Tiles suffers repairs slowdown

Topps Tiles has warned weak demand in the domestic repairs and maintenance sector have persisted in 2024, particularly within big-ticket items, with profits set to be hit by lower volumes this year.

The FTSE 250 group said: ‘Group profitability in the first half of the year will be impacted by a number of factors including the weaker market, the timing of the holiday pay accrual and seasonally higher energy usage in the period. We continue to expect the Group’s profits in 2024 to be weighted towards the second half as indicated in our Q1 trading update.’

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