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What to Watch: Lloyds and Laura Ashley profits slide, UK retail recovery

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
European shares dipped slightly on Thursday morning. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

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

Profits crash and CEO pay cut at Lloyds Bank

Lloyds Bank (LLOY.L) on Thursday announced a steep drop in annual profit, as the cost of mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) stung the bank.

Pre-tax profit at Lloyds dropped 26% in 2019 to £4.3bn ($5.5bn), which was slightly worse than the City expected. The slump was largely driven by a £2.4bn charge for PPI mis-selling, up from just £750m in 2018.

Its chief executive also had his pay cut after criticism of his £6.5m ($8.4m) remuneration package.

Lloyds’ annual report, published on Thursday, showed Antonio Horta-Osorio earned £4.7m in 2019, which was 28% lower than his take-home pay in 2018.

UK retail sales bounce back after the election

Retail sales were stronger than expected in January, as consumers headed to shops in the wake of new-found economic certainty, pushing the sector into growth for the first time in months.

Compared with December, sales volumes climbed by 0.9% in the first month of the year, better than the 0.7% analysts had forecast, according to official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The strong growth, the best since March 2019, means the the retail sector has snapped the longest stretch of weakness since sectoral records began in the 1970s. The sector had experienced no growth in the final five months of 2019.

Laura Ashley CEO retires early as losses deepen

The CEO of Laura Ashley (ALY.L) has retired earlier than planned as the troubled retailer revealed its losses had more than doubled in the second half of last year.

The clothes and home furnishings brand has been battling to stay afloat, after falling sales left the company unable to borrow as much as expected.

It said it had secured a funding lifeline on Wednesday after crisis talks with its major bank lender Wells Fargo (WFC). It secured permission to use a loan to fund its day-to-day operations.

It revealed on Thursday its pre-tax losses excluding “exceptional” items had widened to £4m ($5.2m) in the 26 weeks to the end of 2019, compared with £1.5m the previous year. Its sales also slid from £122.9m in the second half of 2018 to £109.6m.

Hiring slowdown in Europe’s three biggest economies hits Hays

The global recruitment firm Hays (HAS.L) has warned a hiring slowdown in Europe’s three biggest economies hit its sales and profits last year.

It blamed Brexit uncertainty, Germany’s manufacturing slowdown, strikes in France and bushfires in Australia for falling client recruitment in its half-year report published on Thursday.

Its operating profits crashed by almost a fifth from £124.1m ($160.3m) in the second half of 2018 to £100.1m in the second half of last year. Net fees, its turnover minus pay to temps and other agencies, dropped by 3% from £568m to £553m in the period.

European stocks dip

European stocks dipped slightly on Thursday morning in London, amid several worse-than-expected results at major companies and fresh jitters over the coronavirus.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) and Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) both dropped 0.1%. France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) dropped 0.2%.

The pan-European Stoxx (^STOXX) 600 lost 0.3% after insurance giant Swiss Re’s profits came in lower than expected.

"You've got the manufacturing PMIs tomorrow, which is probably the most important figure this week because they may show the early impact of the coronavirus on demand and the supply chain," Connor Campbell, analyst at Spreadex, told Reuters.

What to expect in the US

Leading US stocks also looked set to dip at the open. The Dow Jones (YM=F), S&P 500 (ES=F) and the Nasdaq (NQ=F) all looked set to drop 0.2%.