LONDON -- November brought us another uncertain period for the FTSE 100 (UKX), which ended the month 84 points up on on 5,867. Although that's another month in which the index of top U.K. stocks rose modestly, it did plummet mid-month to a level not seen since July, after figures showed the eurozone back in recession.
But whatever the index is doing, what company news is coming our way in December? With the Christmas holidays coming, the second half of the month will be pretty quiet, but we have a few interesting things to expect:
Accounting and business management software developer Sage Group (LSE: SGE ) released its full-year results this morning, Dec. 5, and they were a little better than analysts had been expecting -- but the share price fell 3 pence (1%) to 308 pence in early trading.
Underlying pre-tax profit rose by 4% to £356 million, though underlying earnings dropped by 2% to 19.86 pence per share -- but some were suggesting a fall of 5%, so that's really not a bad result. The firm also felt confident enough to lift its dividend by 4% to 10.15 pence per share, for a yield of 3.3%.
DS Smith (LSE: SMDS ) will be bringing us interim figures on Thursday, Dec. 6, and it sounds like things are going as expected -- at least, that's what last month's trading update from the recycled packaging manufacturer told us. Margins across the packaging business are expected to be in the 7%-9% range, with 7.6% achieved at the same stage last year. While U.K. business has been held back, things have been going well across Europe.
With analysts forecasting a rise in full-year earnings per share (EPS) of around 25%, the Smith board is expecting "substantial year-on-year EPS growth" and said that it "views the remainder of the year with confidence." The share price is already up nearly 60% over the past year, but with 2014's forecast price-to-earning (P/E) ratio falling to 10, there could be more to come.
Tuesday, Dec. 11, brings us interim results from Ashtead Group (LSE: AHT ) , the equipment rental business that has seen its share price more than double over the past 12 months. First-quarter results back in September were very strong, with revenue up 21% to £325 million, and pre-tax profit up a whopping 82% to £61.4 million.
Forecasts for the full year look good, with a near-40% growth in EPS expected. We're also seeing a gradual year-by-year rise in the firm's dividend payout although, with that being outpaced by share price growth, the 4.5 pence level expected this year amounts to a yield of only a little over 1%.
Sports Direct International (LSE: SPD ) will be releasing first-half results on Thursday, Dec. 13, and things are looking good. In an October pre-close update, the company told us that sales for the nine weeks to Sept. 30 totaled £402.7 million, up 18%, and that gross profit was up 21.7% to £167.4 million.
Forecasts for the full year suggest a 35% rise in earnings per share, though there is still only going to be a small dividend for the next couple of years, for a yield of around 1%. With the shares currently priced at 385 pence, up nearly 70% over the past 12 months, there's a fair bit of growth expectation built into the price.
Aggreko (LSE: AGK ) , the provider of temporary power generation and temperature control equipment, is due to release a trading update on Monday, Dec. 17, ahead of full-year results for the year to Dec. 31, due in March.
In October, we were told that the company's third quarter had been strong, with the London Olympics helping it to a 13% growth in underlying revenue. Overall, trading was pretty much in line with expectations. For the full year, we should probably see something close to forecasts of a 17% rise in EPS. But the shares, at 2,246 pence, are on a forward P/E of over 20 for the next two years, which might be a bit stretching.
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That's why it's always worth keeping abreast of what news is coming our way each month, and doing some background research on promising-looking candidates.
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