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What to Watch: Pound falls on May's deal, M&S shares drop, and Royal Mail profits fall

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May grimaces during her speech in London, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, pool

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

Pound falls on May’s ‘new deal’

The pound has fallen to a fresh five month low against the dollar amid signs that Theresa May’s “new deal” on Brexit looks dead in the water after less than 24-hours.

On Tuesday afternoon May said in a speech that she would offer MPs a vote on a second referendum if they backed her unpopular withdrawal deal. The move was an attempt to win support from pro-EU MPs but instead appears to have alienated Brexit supporting members of her own party.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at, said: “Mrs May needs to realise her deal is never going to get through Parliament, whatever amount of convoluted bargaining she attempts. Her gamble on offering a confirmatory referendum on her deal has clearly failed at the first hurdle.”

Sterling was down 0.3% against the dollar to $1.26 (GBPUSD=X) and down by 0.2% against the euro to €1.13 (GBPEUR=X).

M&S shares drop

Shares in Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) fell 4% in early trade after the retailer reported a 9.9% fall in full year profits.

Underlying pre-tax profits declined by 9.9% to £523.2m in the year to March 31. Sales at its food halls fell 2.3%, although it said this was impacted by the timing of Easter. Comparable clothing and home sales dropped 1.6% and total sales were 3.6% lower due to store closures.

M&S on Wednesday also launched a £600m ($761m) rights issue to fund a deal with online supermarket company Ocado (OCDO.L).

M&S CEO Steve Rowe emphasised that the group was "deep into the first phase of our transformation programme” and that it continues to “make good progress restoring the basics and fixing many of the legacy issues we face.”

Royal Mail profits fall

Royal Mail (RMG.L) has reported a drop in adjusted pre-tax profits to £398m for the year to March 31, compared to £565m in the comparable period last year.

On a reported basis, pre-tax profits increased to £241m. Revenue was higher at £10.58bn.

Chief executive Rico Back said: “At the heart of our refreshed strategy is a UK ‘turnaround and grow’ programme. In 2018-19, after a challenging year, we delivered productivity improvements and cost avoidance in line with our revised expectations.

“Over the next five years, through a focus on new ways of working and extending our network, we will ensure a contemporary UK universal service.”

TransferWise valued at $3.5bn

TransferWise has become Britain’s most valuable private fintech business, eight years after its founding.

London-based TransferWise said on Wednesday that its investors had sold $292m-worth of shares to new backers. The pricing of the shares values TransferWise at $3.5bn.

The valuation is more than double what the the company was worth when it raised money in November 2017. The price tag also makes TransferWise the UK’s most valuable fintech business, on a par with Greensill and eclipsing fellow “unicorns” Revolut, Monzo, and OakNorth. Furthermore, TransferWise is now one of Britain’s most valuable private tech businesses in any field.

“If you ask me, then I guess we must be at the top, I don’t know and I frankly don’t care,” founder and chairman Taavet Hinrikus told Yahoo Finance UK.

European markets

European stock markets were mixed. Britain's FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was up by 0.4%, Germany's DAX (^GDAXI) was flat, France's CAC 40 (^FCHI) was flat, and the Euronext 100 (^N100) was flat.

Asian markets were mixed overnight. Japan's Nikkei 225 (^N225) closed flat, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index (^HSI) was up by 0.1%, and China's benchmark Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was down by 0.4%.

“Chinese tech stocks took a hit overnight as the US are looking to blacklist a series of Chinese companies as trade talk tensions heat up again,” Mike van Dulken and Vlad Totia at Accendo Markets said in a morning note to clients.

“US markets on the other hand, saw Wall Street stocks move to the upside for the first time in three days as American Companies would be allowed to keep doing business with Huawei for the next three months.”

What to expect in the US

US stock futures were pointing to a lower open later today.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were down by 0.1%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) was down by 0.1%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were down by 0.2%.

Companies reporting later in the US today include:

  • Universal (UVV)