Important information - the value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.

Has Marks & Spencer still got its spark? Is the Pets at Home’s pet care model about to end up in the doghouse? And what will 2024 have in store for budget airline easyJet

Here is a round-up of a handful of stocks to keep an eye on in November as these companies issue their latest results or trading updates.  

This is not a recommendation to buy or sell these investments and is purely insight into some of the companies that will be announcing results in the weeks ahead.  

Read on or jump to the relevant company below.

Associated British Foods 

You would imagine that with its seemingly unaligned mix of food ingredients and fast fashion, Associated British Foods would be especially exposed to the twin risks of inflation and recession. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. AB Foods has raised its full-year profit guidance, not once but twice in four months. It has now set its expectations at “slightly better than its previous expectations”, which themselves were already expected to be “moderately ahead” of last year’s earnings. It should mean earnings are on track to beat last year’s £1.4bn.  

Far from hampering it, the cost-of-living crisis appears to be playing into the hands of AB Foods, the mini conglomerate that includes Patak’s and Primark amongst the plethora of brands it owns. And its expectation is that retail and sugar profitability will significantly improve in 2024, which bodes well for the medium-term. 

On the fashion front, Primark, its low-cost, fast-fashion chain is (and has long been) a favourite with cost-conscious consumers. Here full-year sales are expected to come in around £9bn, 15% ahead of sales last year with like-for-like sales growth of 9%. It will also have 18 million square ft of selling space to its name globally, with 432 stores in cities around the world. 

Primark’s performance is being helped by price increases, lower freight and material costs, and a weaker US dollar. But its retail operating margin, expected to come in at around 8%, has been impacted by “higher than expected” stock loss from stores across the estate and “a modest amount of German restructuring costs”. 

It also must be noted that the retail sector, in particular, faces the prospect of further interest rate rises, continuing high inflation, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and snail-paced economic growth in the coming months. All these factors could act as a drag on financial performance in the short run. Although so far Primark has weathered all these elements in style. 

For AB Foods, the icing on the cake has been the Foods division, which thanks to Twinings, Ovaltine, Blue Dragon and Patak's performing particularly well with US consumers, will see a “substantial” improvement in profitability in the next financial year. Not even the sugar shortfall has soured the numbers. Here the adjusted operating profit is now expected to be modestly above last year’s.  

While global shortages of sugar are set to continue, at AB Foods “strong sales growth” is anticipated and the sugar business is expected to make a “substantial improvement in profitability” next year, aided by an improved sugar beet crop in the UK, the company has said. 

Associated British Foods is due to report its full year results on 7 November. 

More on Associated British Foods 

Marks & Spencer 

Having returned to the FTSE 100 index after a four-year hiatus, Marks & Spencer is still pulling off a turnaround that appears nothing short of impressive. The 139-year-old high street stalwart that looked in danger of being written-off as a has-been just a few years ago, has turned out a new clothing range which doesn’t have any whiff of the frumpy vibe that hitherto appeared to be M&S’s lot. And its food, which has always been at the ‘luxury’ end of the market, has found favour with consumers despite - or maybe even because of - the cost-of-living crisis. 

It hasn’t happened overnight though. This transformation has been promised for more than two decades, so has been a very long time coming. But it has finally achieved it and in May the numbers showed that, with full-year profits for the year to 1 April up from £391.7m to £475.7m on the back of a 9.9% rise in sales to almost £12bn. 

Let’s give it due credit too for pulling off this radical revamp that has enabled it to increase food and home sales slap bang in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis and proven its appeal to the “modern mainstream customer” as its new target market. 

Falling inflation, especially falling food inflation, if sustained, will provide a boost to M&S. And even more so with household incomes boosted by record wage growth.  

Marks & Spencer’s half-year results are due out on 8 November. 

More on Marks & Spencer

Burberry 

Signs that shoppers are less willing to spend on luxury goods has been starting to creep into earnings. The starkest of which though has come most recently from industry leader LVMH, which reported sales growth of 9% for the most recent quarter, below consensus expectations and a steep slowdown from the 17% increase it recorded the previous quarter. 

LVMH chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony said: “After three roaring and outstanding years, we’re converging toward numbers that are more in line with the historical average. Will we stay there? I don’t really know.” 

What we do know is that investors in Burberry will be looking very closely for any sign that the Asian luxury goods buyers, on which it so depends, are among those reining in their spending. Chinese buyers, who typically generate around 40% of Burberry’s revenue, seemed unaffected back in July. Then, Burberry’s appeal as a classically British brand was continuing to drive high sales in Asia, but the company did see a slowdown in the US, with luxury buyers increasingly opting for domestic brands. And that’s a trend LVMH also mentioned in its latest update. 

At Burberry, at the full-year results stage back in May, revenue to 1 April was shown to have risen from £2.8bn to £3bn and helped push adjusted operating profits up by 21% to £634m, beating analysts’ estimates. The big question now though is what will happen in 2024 and beyond? 

The sector has undoubtedly had a good run, despite the pandemic and the economic slowdown. The luxury goods market has grown by an average of more than 20% per year since 2020. That is according to consultancy Bain, which says the industry’s historical average is typically closer to 6%. Looking ahead, on an optimistic view the sector could see growth of 8-10% this year, while a more pessimistic take on the current situation would suggest 5% is more likely, it said. It is younger luxury goods buyers who are most likely to feel the chill winds of an economic slowdown and trim spending where necessary. 

No doubt at Burberry the pressure will be on chief creative director, Bradford-born Daniel Lee, to up the ante when it comes to the “Britishness” of the brand, famed for its checked pattern. The company had a hard time when the pandemic disrupted sales in its key market of China. And after missing analysts’ expectations on a couple of occasions recently, investors will be hoping first-half revenue has continued in a more positive fashion.  Burberry saw revenue rise by a fifth in the first quarter of its financial year, when a rebound in China - where sales surged 46% compared with the same period last year - helped offset weaker sales in the US. 

Burberry’s half-year results are due out on 16 November. 

More on Burberry 

Pets at Home 

The number of pet dogs in the UK increased from 8.9m to 10.2m between 2018 and 2022, according to veterinary charity PDSA. Roughly 27% of Brits own a dog, according to its latest survey. So that’s a lot of people whose hackles would no doubt have gone up at the suggestion by one private airline boss that his customers produced as much CO₂ a year as three pet dogs. 

Exactly how you prove that I’m not entirely sure, but one thing that is for sure though, is that pets are big business. The latest “record” 12 months of trading at Pets at Home shows the nation’s love for our beloved pooches and other assorted fur babies hasn’t waned one bit.  

Despite the biting cost of living crisis, pet lovers have continued to pamper their pets, much to the delight of shops-to-vets group Pets at Home , which saw underlying pre-tax profits up 4.8% to £136.4m in the last full year. That was a whisker ahead of forecasts, on the back of total revenue that increased by 6.6% to £1.4bn. Management said momentum has continued into the new year, and it was planning another £50m buyback. 

The growth has been fuelled by Pets at Home’s veterinary services division. Here, underlying pre-tax profits shot up by 18.3% to £50.9m, while profits shrank by 2.5% to £98.8m on the retail side of the business, despite a 5.9% rise in sales. 

And herein could lie a problem for Pets at Home if it becomes a trend for the veterinary side of the business to do all the heavy lifting. That’s because the Competition and Markets Authority has recently launched an investigation into this £2 billion market to discover whether vet surgeries are offering customers adequate services at fair prices.   

It has noticed that the share of independent vet practices, which used to make up a large chunk of the market, has fallen to just 45% of the industry by 2021, down from 89% in 2013. The review will look at how prescription medication for pets is prescribed and sold, and how surgeries are involved in that sale of medications. Specifically, the regulator is investigating whether customers are aware that vet surgeries often operate within a network of larger companies that sell veterinary products. It will survey pet owners and practitioners in the field to discover their expectations for pricing and actual costs.  

You can bet that as part of this process, Pets at Home, which owns Companion Vets Care and Vets4Pets, giving it a network of more than 450 vet practices in the UK, alongside its pet stores will be closely reviewed.  

This is undoubtedly a thriving part of its business model. Pets at Home has said new client registrations at its veterinary practices have been averaging 8,000 a week, increasing its active client base to closer to 2 million.  

The question is whether the one-stop-shop pet care monopoly model, offering everything needed from ‘tail to treats’, that has served Pets at Home so well, will soon be found to have had its day. 

Pets at Home’s half-year results are due out on 28 November. 

More on Pets at Home  

easyJet 

On paper easyJet appears to be flying high. The low-cost carrier has just struck a deal to buy 157 new planes and has also set out a plan to resume dividend pay outs to shareholders when it reports its full-year 2023 figures later this month.  

Having recorded a £178m loss a year ago, the low-cost carrier appears to be over the worst of the pandemic slump and navigating a profitable course around the turbulence of the past year - that is still ongoing.  

Its latest fourth quarter update showed that passenger numbers were up 8% year-on-year and ticket yield per passenger was 9% higher. Its package holiday business also looks in good shape and is expected to deliver around £120m in pre-tax profits for the year. Looking at demand for the start of the seasonally slower winter period, easyJet forecasts a 13% year-on-year rise in flight capacity for the final three months of this calendar year, at higher prices.  

For shareholders, the icing on the cake should have been news that easyJet is one of the first major European airlines planning on resuming dividends pay outs. It aims to pay shareholders 10% of its full-year headline profits after tax for the year just closed and has said it expects that pay out to rise to 20% of headline post-tax profits the year after. With the tantalising prospect of further increases over the coming years. 

Its airline orders are also a positive move. Along with purchase rights for a further 100 aircraft in an agreement worth $19.9bn, it brings the total number of planes it has on order to 315 by 2034 and follows a forecast for record pre-tax profits of between £850m and £870m for the six months from April to September.  

Yet all this news came with a below expectations profit forecast from the company. EasyJet said it expects full-year profits to come in below market expectations at between £440m and £460m against a consensus forecast of £469m.  

Maybe profit-taking was to blame, possibly investors are sceptical about easyJet’s forecast and it is understandable if there are questions about whether the current travel boom is sustainable over the longer-term and just how much of an impact higher oil prices will have. What is certain though is that all eyes will be on easyJet when it posts its full year results on 28 November. 

More on easyJet
 

Five-year share price performance table

(%) As at 25 Oct

2018-2019

2019-2020

2020-2021

2021-2022

2022-2023

Associated British Foods

-4.9

-19.9

1.4

-20.5

49.0

Marks & Spencer

-28.9

-45.4

86.2

-41.5

102.0

Burberry

20.6

-25.8

29.6

2.2

-5.7

Pets at Home

88.3

89.9

26.9

-40.1

3.9

easyJet

7.8

-52.6

28.6

-46.7

15.4

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns

Source: FE, as at 25.10.23 Basis: Total returns in GBP. Excludes initial charge.

Important information - investors should note that the views expressed may no longer be current and may have already been acted upon. When you are thinking about investing in shares, it’s generally a good idea to consider holding them alongside other investments in a diversified portfolio of assets. Reference to specific securities should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell these securities and is included for the purposes of illustration only. This information is not a personal recommendation for any particular investment. If you are unsure about the suitability of an investment you should speak to one of Fidelity’s advisers or an authorised financial adviser of your choice.

Share this article

Latest articles

When will interest rates fall?

UK economy estimated to grow by 0.1%


Nafeesa Zaman

Nafeesa Zaman

Fidelity International

I put my cash in Premium Bonds - are they still worth it?

Are there better homes for my cash savings?


Ed Monk

Ed Monk

Fidelity International

City of London Investment Trust in focus

A closer look at the ‘dividend hero’


Nick Sudbury

Nick Sudbury

Investment writer