Trending tickers: Meta | Unilever | AstraZeneca | Taylor Wimpey

A look at the stocks making headlines this Thursday

Seen on the screen of a device in Sausalito, Calif., Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces their new name, Meta, during a virtual event on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Zuckerberg talked up his latest passion -- creating a virtual reality
Mark Zuckerberg says Meta wants to ‘introduce AI agents to billions of people’. Photo: Eric Risberg/Reuters

Meta (META)

Meta reported a first-quarter revenue of $28.10bn (£22.57bn), beating expectations of $27.66bn and up 3% year-over-year. Shares were up 12% in after hours trading.

The Facebook and Instagram parent company, which has touted 2023 as its "Year of Efficiency" said in the release that it has "substantially completed" its 2022 layoffs, though it will continue to conduct layoffs this year.

“When we started this work last year, our business wasn’t performing as well as I wanted,” Zuckerberg said on a call with analysts. “But now we’re increasingly doing this work from a position of strength.”

In the current quarter, it has forecast revenue between $29.5bn-$32bn, above expectations for a rise to $29.46bn.

Meta sees “an opportunity to introduce AI agents to billions of people in ways that will be useful and meaningful,” Zuckerberg told investors.

“The owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp saw signs of recovery in its advertising business, helping to dispel concerns about the continued relevance of these platforms,” AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould, said.

“This, plus the greater efficiency pursued by the business in recent months, is clearly helping to win the market over, although CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s continued insistence on pursuing his metaverse vision will ring in the ears of some investors like tinnitus.

“Meta also notably flagged its own developments on AI as the tech giants compete for their share of real estate in this nascent market.”

Unilever (ULVR.L)

Unilever has reported higher revenue in the first quarter as high inflation pushed the British consumer goods giant to increase prices.

The maker of products ranging from Magnum ice cream and Cif surface cleaner to Dove soap, said revenue increased 7% to €14.8bn (£13.1bn) compared with the first three months of 2022.

The better-than-expected figure was driven by price hikes, with the company lifting prices by 10.7% over the period.

But the volume of total sales dipped slightly as people put fewer items in their baskets.

Mark Crouch, analyst at social investing network eToro, said: “Unilever is one of those firms that isn’t going to set the world alight with whizzy tech, but it does have very dependable household staple brands.

“When inflation catches light, like it has in the past year, consumers tend to stick with products they know even as the company hikes prices to sustain its margins.

“It is this resiliency that is giving the maker of Dove something of a squeaky-clean investment case at the moment.

“In its forward guidance the firm is more cautious, but it does not anticipate price falls for its products in 2023.

“This is bad news for consumers being squeezed relentlessly by retail price hikes, but not necessarily a problem for Unilever and its peers for now.”

AstraZeneca (AZN.L)

AstraZeneca increased profits in the first quarter as the company hopes information on key trials this year will reinforce its position as a top producer of cancer therapies.

The UK drugmaker reported earnings per share, excluding some costs, of $1.92 for the three months through March, more than the $1.68 analysts estimated and above last year.

Sales also topped expectations and the company reiterated its full-year guidance.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive, said the company’s performance was “particularly strong” in emerging markets, where sales rose 22%t year on year excluding COVID-19 drugs and at constant exchange rates.

“I am impressed by the growth and pace of innovation I see in China, which underscores the competitive advantage of our leading presence in this country,” he added.

“AstraZeneca has started six new phase three trials this year and remains on track to initiate 30 over the course of 2023. The pipeline underpins the business and makes it look more attractive compared to peers,” Sheena Berry, equity research analyst at Quilter Cheviot, said.

“A number of trials will deliver pivotal results over the next year, but the main focus is currently on the upcoming data readout of the Dato-Dxd refractory lung cancer trial, which if successful has blockbuster potential and will help give positive momentum across the business.”

Taylor Wimpey (TW.L)

Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said buyer interest has risen over the past few months, helped by an improvement in sales and mortgage rates.

The homebuilder said that its average weekly private net sales rate in the four months through April was 0.75.

That is an improvement on the second half of 2022, when the rate was 0.48, but still "We have seen continued recovery in demand from the low levels experienced towards the end of 2022, supported by good mortgage availability, and have seen an incremental improvement in sales rate as the Spring selling season has progressed," CEO Jennie Daly said in a statement.

“A decline in mortgage rates will have certainly helped, yet that might not stay the case for long if the Bank of England decides to push up interest rates once again next month,” AJ Bell’s Mould said.

“It’s clear that first-time buyers are struggling to get on the ladder given the higher cost of borrowing and less choice on home loans, so the property market is by no means bouncing back to rude health.

Watch: Meta's Q1 earnings call: What you need to know

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