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A very mixed set of trading updates from retailers has underwhelmed the market today. J Sainsbury, the largest to report, said like-for-like sales rose 5 per cent over Christmas as it delivered its eighth consecutive quarter of like-for-like sales growth. However, Alliance Boots reported an unexpected slowdown in revenue growth at its UK stores in the Christmas trading quarter: like-for-like sales there edged up just 1.5 per cent. And HMV, which issued a profit warning just before Christmas, announced a second-half loss and said the managing director of HMV UK, Steve Knott, was leaving. Like-for-like sales in the five weeks to January 6 fell 0.8 per cent: HMV UK & Ireland increased like-for-like sales by 0.7 per cent, while Waterstone’s saw a 2 per cent decline. You can watch video of our reporter Tom Braithwaite discussing HMV on FT.com.
We also have a strong statement from sports retailer John David Group and Game Group, the recovering video games retailer, plus decent sales numbers from Dobbies Garden Centres, where Sir Tom Hunter has a large stake, and disappointing numbers from Ideal Shopping Direct. Later today we’ll hear good news from Signet, the jeweller. With so much retail news around I think we run a “wrap” story on an outside page leading on Sainsbury’s and then run the full details on a special page inside. We’ll summarise for you who all the Christmas winners and losers are so far, although we have yet to hear from Tesco, Debenhams, DSG International, Home Retail (Argos), Kesa, Woolworths and WH Smith.
Outside retailing, we a load of trading updates from such companies as SIG (ahead of forecasts), Interserve (in line with weak expectations), Man Group (ho-hum asset growth), Informa (in line), Redrow (cautious outlook), UK Coal (in line), and Spectris (strong).
And we have a very good scoop from James Mackintosh, our new-ish hedge funds correspondent. Julius Baer has sold its $9bn London fixed-income investment boutique to management, he says, just 18 months after the Swiss bank bought the far larger Global Asset Management from rival UBS. The newly independent division – rebranded as Augustus Asset Managers – has recruited Howard Carter, former chief executive of Foreign & Colonial, the UK-based investment trust group, as non-executive chairman.
Rumour of the Day: PartyGaming shares are down 4 per cent on talk that UBS is placing 160m shares. Neil Hume on our markets desk says the shares were placed on behalf of a former non-executive director in just five minutes. One hedge fund was short, we hear, and lapped up nearly half the shares on offer.