Market Report: Halfords moves up a gear after dividends assurance


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As a dramatic week in the City limped to a nervous end, Halfords was driven up after investors were reassured over the future of its dividend.

The bicycle retailer has been freewheeling for a number of months, losing more than 40 per cent since June 2010. Yesterday, however, it surged 18.6p to 313.1p as Oriel Securities' Jonathan Pritchard upgraded his advice to "buy", saying the sell-off was "simply too aggressive".

The analyst was hardly gushing in his praise for the company, predicting a "poor" trading statement next month, but he said the performance of its share price suggested "a degree of distress" that was overdone.

Mr Pritchard added that Halfords – which in April issued its second profits warning in less than three months – had reached a low and that "the negative forecast momentum is beginning to relent as management reverses its mistakes".

As a result, he said, "those concerned by the sustainability of the dividend need not be" because it was covered even on his lowest forecasts.

After Thursday saw nearly 250 points knocked off the FTSE 100 in its worst single session for two-and-a-half years, traders were hoping for a quiet end to the week. Yet the blue-chip index quickly veered down again, bursting below the 5,000-point mark for the first time since August as fears over a Greek default intensified.

By the bell it had managed to move back above the psychologically important barrier, ending the day 25.2 points better off at 5,066.81, although £78bn has still been wiped off its stocks over the past seven days.

Market voices were bemoaning the lack of detail in yesterday's statement from the G20, although it did seem to help the banks. With the sector also being boosted by chatter suggesting France could inject capital into its banking system, Barclays and Lloyds – shrugging off Moody's downgrade of eight of their Greek peers' credit ratings – took the top two spots, rising 7.15p to 146p and 1.64p to 34.15p respectively.

Man Group was not far behind, with the world's biggest listed hedge fund manager climbing 10.4p to 231.4p ahead of the release of its pre-close trading update next week. The group was helped by Singer Capital Markets' Sarah Ing predicting that its flagship AHL fund would continue to impress, as she reiterated her "buy" recommendation.

Plummeting metal prices meant the miners were weighing down the index. Copper continued to slump, touching a 13-month low. Atif Latif of Guardian Stockbrokers blamed the slide on recent disappointing economic data from China as well as on the failure of the US Federal Reserve to announce a fresh round of quantitative easing earlier in the week.

As a result, Kazakhmys retreated 32.5p to 814p – its cheapest since July 2009 – while Xstrata declined 23.5p to 826p. The wooden spoon was taken by Weir Group, with the engineering group heavily exposed to the mining sector as it was pegged back 6.25 per cent to 1,546p.

The gossips were still refusing to give up on speculation that Inmarsat could become a target for private equity, and the mobile satellite group advanced 14.7p to 477.8p. Olivier Mora of HSBC was not keen on the talk, saying he gave it " little credit". But he still reiterated his "overweight" advice, claiming that the company was "undervalued".

Although the analyst was cautious about its partner LightSquared's plans to build a high-speed wireless network across the States, he did point out that if regulators gave it the green light "it would significantly strengthen the possibility of sustained cash flows for Inmarsat".

Down on the FTSE 250, easyJet continued to avoid the turbulence rocking the wider market, shifting up 12p to 352p. The budget airline, which increased its profit expectations on Thursday, revealed that its founder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, had withdrawn his call for an EGM to attempt to oust a non-executive director.

Meanwhile, its blue-chip peer International Airlines Group (IAG) crept up 0.5p to 142.1p after its British Airways business strengthened its presence at Heathrow by buying six more take-off and landing slots. IAG was also given a boost by HSBC, which said its recent decline meant that it offered " the highest potential return" among the network carriers.

Synchronica was knocked back 31.9 per cent to 9.88p after the mobile messaging company announced it was unlikely to receive a series of major payments it was owed until next year. The Alternative Investment Market-listed group also revealed a shake-up among its top brass, with both its chief executive and chief operating office leaving immediately.

Meanwhile, the bid target Axis-Shield edged down 3.5p to 455p in response to Alere telling shareholders to accept its "compelling" 460p a share offer – one that was rejected by the small-cap diagnostics group in July.

FTSE 100 Risers

Tesco 365.2p (up 8.95p, 2.51 per cent)

Supermarket receives a boost from Evolution raising its rating to "neutral" from "sell".

Resolution 239.8p (up 4.4p, 1.87 per cent)

Insurance buyout vehicle finishes in the blue for the first time in five sessions.

Bunzl 769p (up 3p, 0.39 per cent)

Distributor manages positive finish to its first week on the blue-chip index since gaining promotion.

FTSE 100 Fallers

Randgold Resources 6,350p (down 315p, 4.73 per cent)

Gold digger's fall means it has dropped by nearly 12 per cent in the last three days.

IMI 725.5p (down 18.5p, 2.49 per cent)

Major retreat leaves the engineer languishing at its lowest share price for more than a year.

Rio Tinto 2,985p (down 38p, 1.26 per cent)

Miner slides as workers at its Rossing uranium project in Namibia start industrial action.

FTSE 250 Risers

Betfair 745p (up 22p, 3.04 per cent)

Betting exchange manages a small rebound after shedding more than 9 per cent in previous three days.

Debenhams 55.95p (up 1.05p, 1.91 per cent)

Despite advance, department store has still lost nearly 6 per cent since its update on Tuesday.

Babcock 647p (up 6p, 0.94 per cent)

The defence group edges forward ahead of its pre-close trading statement next week.

FTSE 250 Fallers

Exillon Energy 206p (down 53p, 20.46 per cent)

Russia-focused explorer reaches its lowest share price for nearly a year after oil prices slip.

Thomas Cook 36.09p (down 2.72p, 7.01 per cent)

Tour operator dips as investors prepare for next Thursday's pre-close trading update.

New World Resources 475p (down 12.5p, 2.56 per cent)

Coal miner hit by JP Morgan Cazenove cutting its target price to 530p from 940p.