What to Watch: Topps Tiles and WPP shares crash, virus spooks European markets

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
A Topps Tiles store in Rayleigh, England. (John Keebls/Getty Images)

Here are the top business, market and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Topps Tiles shares plunge on profit warning

Shares in Topps Tiles (TPT.L) crashed 23% in early trading on Thursday, after it issued a profit warning.

The tiles and wood flooring firm blamed weak consumer spending as it reported profits for its full year to 3 October would be “materially below” the previous expected minimum of between £13.5m ($17.5m) and £14.5m.

Its like-for-like sales dropped 5.5% in the eight weeks to 22 February. The figures come in spite of official figures last week that showed increased consumer spending since the December election.

But chief executive Rob Parker highlighted an “encouraging improvement” in the housing market it hopes will boost trading later in the year.

Slowdown sends WPP shares sliding

WPP (WPP) shares also slumped on the open, and were trading 15.6% lower shortly after 10am on Thursday.

The global advertising giant revealed in its preliminary 2019 results it had suffered a slowdown at the end of last year. It reported a 1.9% drop in its preferred measure of organic revenue minus pass-through costs in its fourth quarter compared to a year earlier.

Its full-year pre-tax profits were down 21.9% to £982m in 2019, but WPP blamed it on exceptional costs. It comes after a difficult few years for the company, which has launched a turnaround plan since losing its founder Martin Sorrell amid a probe into misconduct allegations in 2018.

Stocks tumble again as coronavirus cases rise in Europe

European stocks plunged on Thursday as investors assessed the longer-term impact of the spread of coronavirus on trade, supply chains, and consumer confidence.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX), which had mounted a recovery of sorts on Wednesday, fell by more than 1.4% on Thursday morning.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was down by more than 1.5% in London. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) fell by more than 1.4%, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) declined by around 1.3%.

European stocks sink again as Coronavirus panic deepens 

The declines followed a weak trading session in Asia. While stocks climbed slightly in mainland China and Hong Kong, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) fell by over 2.1%. The KOSPI Composite Index (^KOSPI) in South Korea, where there have been almost 1,600 cases, closed more than 1% down.

France, Spain, and Germany have all seen an increase in infections, likely tied to the outbreak in Northern Italy, where over 450 people have contracted the virus and 12 people have died.

Travel industry stocks were among the heaviest hit across Europe, with EasyJet (EZJ.L) declining by around 5%, British Airways-owner IAG (IAG.L) falling by 3.9%, and holiday operator TUI (TUI.L) down 6%.

Aston Martin to ‘reset’ business after £106m loss in a year

Luxury carmaker Aston Martin Lagonda (AML.L) on Thursday announced a turnaround plan, as it revealed widening losses and slipping sales.

The struggling car maker said pre-tax losses grew by 53% last year to £104.3m ($134m). The business also slipped to an operating loss of £36.7m, compared to an operating profit of £72.8m in 2018.

Revenue and sales both fell by 9%. The car maker sold 5,862 vehicles last year, which brought in £997.3m. Aston Martin’s debt rose by 53% to £876.2m last year and the business now has leverage of 7.3 times earnings.

Coronavirus boosts Dettol sales

The epidemic of novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is boosting sales of disinfectants, a leading manufacturer said on Thursday.

Consumer goods giant Reckitt Benckiser (RB.L) said sales of its Dettol disinfectant wipes and Lysol cleaning products had been boosted by the deadly epidemic.

“We are seeing some increased demand,” the company said in its annual results.

What to expect in the US

Leading US stocks looked likely to open in the red. The Dow Jones (YM=F), S&P 500 (ES=F) and the Nasdaq (NQ=F) all looked set to fall 0.6% on the open.

It comes as US officials suggested a new coronavirus diagnosis in California could be the first in the country without any connection to travel or another known case.

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