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What to Watch: Car dealer hit by slowdown, Ladbrokes' digital boost, and Thomas Cook stores snapped up

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Renault cars parked in the manufacturer's lot. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

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

Car dealer hit by slowdown

Car dealership Vertu Motors (VTU.L) has been hit by the slowdown in UK car sales, revealing slumping profits and sales.

Vertu said sales fell by 10% in the first half of its financial year and pre-tax profits fell by 7% to £16.1m. Used car sales rose by 1.6%.

The company said it was on track to hit full-year forecasts despite the slowdown but cautioned: “Continuing political uncertainty has potential to undermine consumer demand notwithstanding continued UK economic growth and record employment levels.”

Ladbrokes’ digital boost

Ladbrokes owner GVC (GVC.L) raised its profit forecasts for its current financial year on Wednesday, in part thanks to continued growth in online gambling at the firm.

GVC increased its full-year core earnings forecast for the second time in three months, saying that they will now come in between £670m and £680m.

Net gaming revenue, a key metric in the gambling business, climbed by 12% in the three months to the end of September, even though the football world cup partly fell during the same period last year.

Online sports-related bets were up 5% in the period, boosting net gaming revenue from those wagers by 16%.

Thomas Cook stores snapped up

Hays Travel has agreed to buy all of Thomas Cook’s shops in the UK for an undisclosed sum, in a move that could save the tops of up to 2,500 employees.

Hays Travel, which is the country’s largest independent travel agent, will take control of 555 stores, and has already hired over 400 former Thomas Cook staff, the government Insolvency Service said on Wednesday.

“This is an extremely positive outcome, and we are delighted to have secured this agreement,” said Jim Tucker, a KPMG partner.

“It provides re-employment opportunities for a significant number of former Thomas Cook employees, and secures the future of retail sites up and down the UK high street.”

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel operator, collapsed into administration in September, leaving 150,000 holidaymakers stranded and putting 9,000 jobs in the UK at risk.

Pound buoyed by Brexit hopes

The pound jumped against the euro and the dollar on Wednesday morning amid hopes that a Brexit deal could yet be reached before 31 October.

Sterling had been under pressure in early trade but jumped higher at about 9.30am. The pound was 0.1% against the euro to €1.1163 (GBPEUR=X) and up 0.3% against the dollar to $1.226 (GBPUSD=X).

The reversal in fortune came after the Times reported that “a major concession” by allowing Northern Ireland to leave the so-called Irish backstop after a number of years.

“Quoting diplomatic sources close to the talks the Times reported that European governments are prepared to concede a unilateral withdrawal from an interim after a set period of time - with 2025 being touted,” David Cheetham, chief market analyst at trading platform XTB, wrote in an email.

“While this appears constructive No 10 has already told the EU that it won’t accept a Northern Ireland only backstop - regardless of a time-limit - and it’s quite feasible that this is little more than posturing and the next move in the Brexit blame game.”

Brexit hurts British competitiveness

Britain has dropped down a place in one of the world’s most highly-anticipated reports on country competitiveness.

Every year the World Economic Forum (WEF) releases its benchmark Global Competitiveness Report that looks at 98 indicators across 140 countries to determine the overall ranking. Each indicator uses a scale from 0 to 100, to signify how close an economy is to the ideal state or “frontier” of competitiveness. Those indicators are then organised into 12 pillars, such as health, skills, financial system, infrastructure, and institutions.

According to the overall ranking table, the UK has slipped by another position to reach 9th place, after slipping last year to 8th. Meanwhile, Singapore placed first and the US second.

Markets rally

European markets rallied on Monday, rebounding from Tuesday’s sell-off.

“The markets put on a brave face at the start of Wednesday – not exactly clawing back all of Tuesday’s losses, but making a go of it nevertheless,” Connor Campbell, a market analyst at SpreadEx, said in an email.

“With the latest round of US-China trade talks looking dead in the water before they’ve even begun, and the UK and EU as far away from a deal as imaginable despite the looming October 31st deadline, there would’ve been plenty of reason for investors to start the session with their heads in their hands. Yet the European indices tried their best to rebound after the bell.”

France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up by 0.7%, Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was up by 1%, and the Euronext 100 (^N100) was up by 0.5%. Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) underperformed peers due to the rally in the pound and was up by 0.4%.

Overnight in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) closed down by 0.6%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) was down by 0.8%, and China’s Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was up by 0.3%

What to expect in the US

US stocks future are pointing to a higher open. S&P500 futures (ES=F) were up by 0.7%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) were up by 0.6%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were up by 0.9%.