THE launch of shares in insurer Direct Line Group and updates from WH Smith, Greggs and Burberry should be highlights for investors next week.
The flotation of Royal Bank of Scotland’s Direct Line Group insurance arm will offer retail investors the chance to buy shares in what is set to be London’s biggest stock market listing of the year.
Direct Line shares will begin trading on Thursday, priced at between 160p and 195p, according to RBS.
This would give the Churchill and Direct Line firm a mid-point valuation of £2.66 billion, which came in at the lower end of City estimates in what was seen as an attempt to woo investors.
Demand has been strong, according to retail stockbrokers, of which 20 have been appointed to take orders from investors.
Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown, said “thousands” of buyers had registered for shares since the pricing details were announced.
RBS is floating up to 33% of the business initially, with further tranches to come.
Bakery chain Greggs suffered in a rain-soaked first half of the year, but it may serve up an improved performance in Thursday’s third quarter update.
The Newcastle-based group, which has 1,600 shops in the UK, saw sales fall 3.5% in the three months to June 30 after record rainfall meant shoppers stayed away from the high street.
Half-year profits fell 4.6% to £16.5m, despite its efforts to keep a lid on costs. The grim weather meant Greggs was also unable to see the benefits of its recent profile-boosting campaign, which saw it play a key part in convincing Chancellor George Osborne to overturn the Government’s so-called pasty-tax.
Chief executive Ken McMeikan marched on Downing Street to deliver a 300,000-strong petition against plans to charge 20% VAT on its hot pasties and sausage rolls.
Analysts are expecting Greggs to narrow sales declines in the second half, although the tough consumer spending conditions are likely to keep like-for-like results in the red.
Shore Capital retail experts forecast overall second half like-for-like sales to improve to a 1.5% fall, but returning to growth next year if the wider economy also recovers.
But they said that the potential lies in its new stores, with Greggs keeping its focus on expansion in spite of tough trading.
The group has opened 33 more shops than it closed this year and is on course to open a record 90 outlets in 2012.
It also recently announced plans for 28 franchise stores in Moto service stations as part of a strategy to expand beyond the UK high street.
Retail analysts at Panmure Gordon said Greggs has “at least six years of strong organic growth ahead of it”.
Luxury goods group Burberry has received a battering on the stock market since news of falling sales last month sparked fears of a slowdown in its key Chinese market.
The fashion firm – whose luxury bags and coats have proved a hit in emerging markets such as China over recent years – saw more than £1 billion wiped off its market value in one day after it warned over profits and said sales had started to fall since early September.
Thursday’s trading update will be pored over for further news on the second quarter sales trend, which suggested Burberry’s rampant growth was coming to an end as China’s powerhouse economy slows.
Shares have slumped by more than a quarter since last month’s sales shock.
The firm said like-for-like sales ground to a halt in the 10 weeks to September 8 and had started to fall over more recent weeks – a marked reversal on the 6% hike seen in the first quarter.
Burberry warned full-year profits would be at the bottom end of expectations – previously for between £407m and £455m. It has shrugged off the economic downturn in the past with stellar sales, thanks largely to its popularity in some of the world’s top shopping cities and soaring demand from emerging markets.
But Burberry admitted its trading conditions were “becoming more challenging”.