Market Report: Sorry Pru, you're just too good, says analyst

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The Independent Online

According to UBS, you can have too much of a good thing – and in Prudential's case it's good news. Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive, may have delivered strong results at the insurer last week, but UBS sent stock in the Pru tumbling yesterday after downgrading it from buy to neutral.

James Pearce at the bank was almost apologetic, saying: "Pru is clearly the best managed insurer in the sector [and] we believe the Pru is the UK's most attractive insurance business, with high-quality operations in Asia, the US, and UK."

But, says Mr Pearce, its sheer quality means shares are unlikely to outperform and investors should hold fire for now. Prudential fell 39p to 1,115p.

There was bad news for the Pru's arch-rival Aviva too. Canaccord Genuity reiterated its "hold" rating but lowered its target price for the insurer from 380p to 335p in a note entitled Still a long way to go.

Canaccord's Ben Cohen was scathing in his assessment of results earlier this month, saying: "We were disappointed not only with the earnings miss and the dividend cut, but the shifting goalposts on what is really cash and the lack of earlier clarity on internal and external leverage." Aviva finished 2.9p down at 323.3p.

However, the overriding story of yesterday's markets was narrated by a Mediterranean island with a population of just over a million: Cyprus. The prospect of a raid on Cypriot savers as part of a £9bn EU bailout sent shockwaves through the world's markets, as the country's lawmakers pushed the vote back to today and scrambled to renegotiate the deal.

The prospect of the one-off "bank levy" spooked investors, who fear that if the measure is approved it will set a dangerous precedent for future action in Greece, Spain and Italy.

Bank stocks were hit particularly hard, with Royal Bank of Scotland losing 10.6p to 297.3p, Barclays down 14.1p to 305.95p and Lloyds dropping 0.67p to 49.85p.

However, after a dreadful morning which saw the FTSE 100 fall as low as 6,386, the benchmark index rallied somewhat in the afternoon, closing 31.73 points down at 6,457.92.

The retail sector was behind much of the uplift. Despite Middle Eastern sources denying rumours that Qatar's sovereign wealth fund was planning an £8bn bid for Marks & Spencer, traders couldn't get enough of the stock, driving it up an exceptional 25.6p to 398.1p.

Sainsbury's, up 2.4p at 365.2p, performed well due to expectations of strong fourth-quarter results from the supermarket today. Next shares were also flying off the rails, putting on 44p to 4,134p.

Elsewhere, despite announcing on Saturday plans to invest more than $1bn in Iraq's Majnoon oilfield in 2013, investors weren't taken with Shell and shares closed down 21.5p at 2,218.5p.

Espirito Santo told investors to think twice about the security specialist G4S, downgrading it from "neutral" to "sell". David Brockton at the bank reckons that while there are good growth opportunities for the company in emerging markets, the restructuring revealed in Friday's results exaggerated the company's earning potential. G4S lost 0.1p to 298.2p.

Shares in the cruise operator Carnival ran aground yesterday, after a profit warning last week. The company, owner of the ill-fated Costa Concordia, has suffered a steady stream of bad news this year – last month its Triumph liner was adrift for four days with raw sewage floating into passenger's cabins, and just last week two other ships were forced to change routes due to technical problems. Its shares sank 56p to 2,323p.

On the FTSE 250, news emerged of a £2.6m shares sell-off by Jupiter Fund Management boss Edward Bonham Carter. While Mr Bonham Carter, brother of the actress Helena Bonham Carter, is still sitting on £45.5m worth of shares, investors weren't pleased with the news and Jupiter dropped 4.9p to 344.5p.

Nat Rothschild's troubled Indonesian mining venture Bumi also suffered after a credit rating downgrade from Standard & Poor's on Sunday. After being bumped down to B from B+, it lost 13.8p to 333.5p.

On AIM there was good news for the South American-focused oil and gas producer Amerisur Resources. Results from an independent study of its Platanillo Field in Colombia found that proven reserves are more than triple its previous estimates. Its shares trickled up 2p to 53p.


There aren't many fans of Home Retail, the owner of Argos, but Investec's Bethany Hocking is one of them. Noting that the broker is the only sell-side buyer of the company, the analyst has kept her "anti-consensus stance". The reason? She does "not believe that the Argos business model is 'structurally challenged'", and even calls its stores "revolutionary". Her price target is 173p – at the moment the shares are trading at 156.5p.


Get rid of your shares in Berkeley, says Panmure Gordon. After the housebuilder's latest update yesterday, analysts at the broker have downgraded the stock to sell, saying that despite "all the good work done by the company and the promise of a cash return", its valuation "looks a little rich to us". They have a target price of 1,702p for shares currently at 2,036p.


Shares in the rat catcher Rentokil soared last week after it posted profits ahead of expectations. In the wake of that rise, Jefferies is sticking to its "hold" advice, although it has upped the price target from 88p to 113p (the shares now trade at 98.75p). Jefferies analysts applaud "a welcome return to organic growth" but say "the onus is firmly on management to unlock its current conglomerate discount".