The UK stocks that defined 2019: Lloyds, BT, Tesco, and more

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 27: The logo of the London Stock Exchange is displayed in its offices after reopening following the Christmas holiday on December 27, 2018 in London, England. The FTSE 100 hit a fresh two-year low today despite stock markets around the world recording significant gains by the end of Wednesday.  (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
London Stock Exchange. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Collapsing airlines, an exodus of FTSE 100 CEOs, and plenty of geopolitical uncertainty — 2019 has been another busy year for UK PLC.

Yahoo Finance UK has crunched through the data to find the most searched for stocks on the platform this year. The companies investors have been searching for tell a story about what this year has been like, both for firms and their stock market backers.

The picture that emerges is one of a difficult year for big corporates, who have had to navigate a rapidly transforming consumer landscape, activist investors, threats of nationalisation from Labour, and global uncertainty around both Brexit and US-led trade disputes.

Below are the top 10 most searched for stock on Yahoo Finance UK in 2019 and how they have faired:

  1. Lloyds Bank (LLOY.L): Lloyds is always a popular stock with investors looking for exposure to the UK economy. The bank is the largest UK retail lender and gets 100% of its revenues from Britain, unlike other FTSE 100 bankings stocks Barclays or HSBC. As a result, it is often seen as a proxy for investor interest in the UK and it’s unsurprising investors were glued to the chart this year given the twists and turns of Brexit. Company specific milestones, such as a huge surge in PPI claims in September, also no doubt supported interest.

  2. BT (BT-A.L): Investors were looking for a turnaround at BT in 2019. CEO Gavin Patterson was ousted at the end of last year and left his successor problems included a large pension deficit, problems with broadband roll-out plans, and a legacy accounting scandal. New CEO Philip Jansen has so far failed the arrest the share price slide, with the stock falling to a 8-year-low in August. Things weren’t helped by the Labour party’s plans to nationalise part of BT if they came to power. The party’s heavy defeat in the election has lifted that threat for now but Jansen will still be under pressure to deliver next year.

  3. Tesco (TSCO.L): Over a fifth of all FTSE 100 companies changed CEOs in 2019 and Tesco was one among them. Dave Lewis announced plans to leave in October, saying he had completed the turnaround he had been brought in to do. Walgreens Alliance Boots executive Ken Murphy has been announced as his successor and will take the reins next year. The prospect of a sale of Tesco’s Asia business was also raised earlier this month and analysts say it could lead to billions of pounds being returned to shareholders, no doubt piquing interest.

  4. BP (BP.L): BP was another major company that saw change at the top this year. Bob Dudley announced in October that he would step down in February 2020 after nine years in charge. Bernard Looney, a BP lifer who runs the company’s upstream business finding and tapping oil wells, is set to take over. He faces a full in-tray. BP has high debt levels that investors would like to see paid down and, in the era of Greta Thunberg, oil and gas companies are increasingly being forced to justify their existence.

  5. Premier Oil (PMO.L): Premier Oil is a closely watched stock in the FTSE 250 and its share price has performed strongly this year, gaining almost a third in 2019. The North Sea producer swung back to profit in March after its second year in a row of record oil production. A modest rally for oil prices since the start of October has also helped. However, storm clouds could be on the horizon. Hong Kong’s Asia Research & Capital Management recently disclosed a huge short position against Premier. The hedge fund is betting against the share price to the tune of £132m, equivalent to 17% of Premier’s total stock. It is the biggest ever UK short selling position.

  6. Diageo (DGE.L): One of the biggest stories in global markets this year has been US-led trade wars. Investors feared that companies like global spirit giant Diageo might be caught up in the crossfire. First, there were concerns that Diageo — which owns brands like Guinness, Smirnoff vodka, and Johnny Walker whisky — would be targeted in a trade spat between the EU and US. The FTSE 100 giant eventually managed to avoid US tariffs on European whisky. More recently, however, Diageo has warned it is “not immune” to the trade spat between the US and China.

  7. Royal Mail (RMG.L): 2019 started with a profit warning from Royal Mail, as it warned that falling letter volumes were hurting business. The continued rise of private parcel delivery companies like Gnewt, UPS, and DPD doesn’t help either. Things haven’t improved much as the company’s turnaround plan has been delayed by an ongoing battle with staff and unions over a possible Christmas strike. A threat by Labour to renationalise the business was yet another headache and shares are down almost 15% over the year.

  8. Aviva (AV.L): Aviva was another company aiming for a turnaround this year. Mark Wilson left in October 2018 under a cloud of poor share price performance and interim replacement Maurice Tulloch got the job on a permanent basis in March. Investors expected big things from Tulloch’s strategy review, including the possibility of selling off Asian businesses and the sell off of other assets. The final review disappointed, with just the sell-off of Aviva’s Hong Kong joint venture and a rejig of the operational structure. Still, the stock is up over 10% across the year.

  9. FlyBMI (NA): 2019 was another tough year for the airline industry. One of the defining stories of the year was the collapse of Thomas Cook in September. The travel operator was just outside the top 10 most searched stocks on Yahoo Finance UK. Iceland’s WOW Air also collapsed in March. But the first airline to go under this year was FlyBMI, the regional UK airline. The carrier ceased operation in February, blaming higher fuel prices and Brexit uncertainty.

  10. Barclays (BARC.L): Barclays was a battleground stock in 2019. Activist investor Edward Bramson waged a battle with management, calling for them to shutdown what he saw as Barclay’s underperforming investment bank. Barclays eventually saw off the challenge in a decisive shareholder vote in May, but Bramson has vowed to continue pushing for change. Meanwhile, Barclays took a £1.4bn hit in October over PPI mis-selling claims and has warned that global market conditions are getting more “challenging”.