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.

WILL investors be sweeter on Greggs this time around? And will corporate travellers take to the skies with the same enthusiasm as their leisure counterparts? British Airways-owner IAG will certainly hope so as it makes its final descent into the last quarter of its financial year. 

Here is a round-up of a handful of stocks to keep an eye on this month 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 or releasing trading updates in the weeks ahead. 

Read on or jump to the relevant company below.


Greggs
  

When the UK bakery chain Greggs talks of inflationary pressures “cooling” it probably shouldn’t, but it conjures up all sorts of images of freshly-baked goods, straight out of the oven. What doesn’t seem to have conjured up such appetising images though is its last set of results, back in August. 

Then, a jump in first-half sales and a pre-tax profit rise from £55.8m to £80m, clearly failed to whet the appetites of investors and Greggs’ share price promptly fell 5%.  

Why, is unclear. Maybe it was the whiff of uncertainty in the comments from Greggs’ chief executive Roisin Currie, who talked about “significant” inflation from rising labour costs. Or maybe it was the fact that despite inflation showing signs of abating, profit margins were still down 0.5% to 7.5% compared with the year before. 

However, with inflation cooling further still, odds are that those margins will be looking tastier when Greggs next updates investors on 3 October.  

The chain is certainly positioned to appeal to cash-strapped consumers, whose ranks have surely swollen since the cost-of-living crisis took hold. Greggs knows its audience and having added 94 stores in the first half of the year, with the focus on getting Greggs outlets into airports, rail stations and retail parks, its 2,378-strong estate is surely now everywhere it needs to be. 

A one-off 5p-10p price increase on some items in June, is also more palatable than last year’s triple attack on customers’ wallets. It’s evident that the bakery chain knows that disposable income is under pressure and still very much “front of mind” for customers. But with inflation still historically high there is only so much it can do to swallow price hikes on ingredients, rather than pass them on and avoid damaging its affordable menu. 

Greggs has so far stepped up and demonstrated its resilience in a tough economic climate. What it needs to do now is maintain that position, while also simultaneously recovering those margins, if it is to keep its shareholders sweet. 

Greggs’ Q3 trading update is due out on 3 October 

More on Greggs 


Tesco

The UK economy is on rocky ground right now, meaning investors have to tread carefully. The ‘are we, aren’t we?’ question is back when it comes to recession and risks remain. But the more positive news of late, aside from a pause in interest rates, is the slight slowdown in the rising cost of living.  

The slight rise in retail sales, by 0.4% in August, partially recovering from the fall of 1.1% in July, is also good news for Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket group. Food sales were a key driver. Food stores sales volumes rose by 1.2%, following a fall of 2.6% in July 2023 when supermarkets reported that the wet weather reduced clothing sales, and supermarket food sales also fell. 

Grocery retailing is a fiercely competitive sector. One in which Tesco, and every one of its competitors, is pulling out all the stops to cut prices and pull in cash-strapped customers. 

In July it crowed about seeing customers switching to Tesco from pricier competitors, like Waitrose and M&S, for the ninth consecutive period. That saw its Finest range sales rise 14.9% in the first quarter of its trading year. It also said it was successfully keeping its discount rivals, Aldi and Lidl at bay. Sales were shown to be up across the board, maintaining Tesco’s fiercely-fought position as the UK’s number one supermarket chain, with overall 27.1% of market share. 

When it comes to its sheer size, Tesco is going to be a big step ahead. The size of its online business means it rakes in more online revenue than any of its competitors and that has continued to grow, with Tesco now taking 37.5% of market share in this space. Little surprise when, at the last count, it recorded an astonishing 1.1m online orders in the year to March 2023, far ahead of its nearest rival Sainsbury’s.  

Food inflation is, of course, still a huge issue though. And Tesco, like every other retailer, has a battle on its hands to grow profits in the current climate. And when it faces such fierce competition.  For now, the focus has to remain on value and the conflicting demands brought about by inflated prices, continuing to make times tough even for this giant in the grocery world. 

Tesco’s half-year results are out on 4 October. 

More on Tesco


easyJet

European air travel continues to be highly competitive sector of the industry. As the world has reopened post-pandemic and the appetite for short-haul travel has increased, price pressures have arguably threatened to weigh the sector down. It has at times been something of a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.  

Self-styled budget airline easyJet though seems to be flying. At its July update it reported £203m of profits in the three months to the end of June. It said it expected to make record profits over the summer. 

And that’s no mean feat when you consider that cost isn’t the only battle they’ve had to fight. From wildfires to strikes and then the chaos that ensued when the UK air traffic control service collapsed, right up to present day staff sickness leading to flight cancellations, it hasn’t been plain-sailing at all. 
 
EasyJet’s strong third quarter beat analysts’ expectations and was boosted by a 22% rise in ticket yields year-on-year, with passengers clearly willing to pay higher fares despite the challenging economic backdrop. So much so that average revenue per seat rose to £90.49, including extras such as baggage or seat selection, up 22% year-on-year and 36% higher than in 2019. Total revenue rose 34% to £2.4bn. 

With “another record” forecast in the current quarter and easyJet having said it has seen “good booking momentum” into the winter - a closely watched sign that the current demand for travel will last beyond the summer bounce-back - its 12 October update will be closely watched. Insight on exactly how it’s navigating “challenging conditions” could be a lesson other companies would be wise to heed.  

easyJet’s trading update is due out on 12 October. 

More on easyJet


Hays 

Employers keen to attract and retain staff have been lifting salaries as workers have increasingly expected wages to go some way towards meeting the rising cost of living.

That will have helped recruitment firm Hays, as it gets paid every time it fills a vacant position. And it says it has seen fees from job placements reach record levels. Like-for-like income from fees rose 6% in the 12 months to June, to £1.3bn. Hays said it was the results of “our actions to increase fee margins, supported by positive effects of wage inflation globally”.

The question now though is what happens when unemployment starts to rise? Higher interest rates are still adding to the pressure on businesses, with more than 200,000 jobs shed between May and July as a result. So far the rise in unemployment has been relatively modest, but it has gathered momentum in recent weeks and is likely to increase further. A number of surveys have started to show pay deals moderating and, if, as the Bank of England suggests, inflation does continue to fall, the need to hike wages will also fall.  

Signs of that are already evident at Hays. Despite record placement fee levels, “tough economic conditions” and a fall in the volume of permanent job placements saw pre-tax profits at the group overall fall 9% on a like-for-like basis to £192m. It said it anticipates a decrease in net fees for the first half of financial year 2024 due to challenging conditions in permanent hiring.

Dirk Hahn, who was due to take over as chief executive In September, arrives in the hotseat at a potentially pivotal moment. And he has big shoes to fill. Alistair Cox, who had been at the helm for 15 years, saw Hays' net fees doubled during his tenure. He was also instrumental in expanding the firm's operations as it invested heavily in technology and data. But when the recruiter posted a lower interim profit due to tougher trading conditions in China and the US, Mr Cox’s job was also on the line. A statement from the group simply said it was an “appropriate time” to appoint a new boss. 

Hays’ Q1 update is due out on 12 October.  

More on Hays


International Consolidated Airlines (IAG)

British Airways-owner IAG began the current financial year with a profitable quarter; the first time it has been in that position since 2019. Earnings before exceptional items came in at €9m, compared to a loss of €741m the year earlier. As a result, it said it expected full year operating profits to beat its target of between €1.8bn and €2.3bn that it gave in February. 

IAG, which also owns Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, raised its annual profit forecast after it said customers were clearly willing to pay higher prices for fares and it was seeing “healthy forward bookings” from leisure travellers in particular. A drop in fuel costs should also help. 

What investors will want to keep an eye on, when IAG gives its third quarter update on 27 October, is how the corporate sector is doing. Business travel has been slower to recover than leisure.  

Chief exec Luis Gallego said British Airways’ corporate bookings were at 65% of 2019 volumes, while Iberia’s corporate bookings had recovered to 95%. But BA has proven slower to recover all round than at any of the other airlines within the IAG group. Its flight schedules are forecast to hit 92% overall this year. By comparison, the group expects to be flying at 97% of its 2019 capacity this year.  

IAG’s Q3 update is due out on 27 October. 

More on IAG 


Five-year share price performance table 

(%) 

As at 27 Sept 

2018-2019 

2019-2020 

2020-2021 

2021-2022 

2022-2023 

Greggs 

103.2 

-44.7 

170.5 

-38.7 

37.8 

Tesco 

3.7 

-8.1 

50.3 

-12.6 

28.3 

easyJet 

-8.7 

-56.2 

73.3 

-57.6 

39.2 

Hays 

-24.1 

-22.2 

60.4 

-31.0 

5.8 

IAG 

-14.2 

-68.9 

96.6 

-45.4 

46.3

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns 

Source: FE, as at 27.9.23 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.

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