A taste for lager among drinkers in emerging markets helped brewing group SABMiller to add fizz to annual adjusted profits, although volumes declined in Europe and North America. SABMiller, whose brands include Peroni, Pilsner Urquell and Grolsch, said strong demand in Latin America, Africa and China drove a one per cent rise in lager volumes, although that was partially offset by declines in Europe and North America.
UK water and wastewater giant United Utilities increased its dividend payment five per cent as full-year profit grew and it believes there is scope to deliver further improvements. Underlying operating profit rose to £641.3m for the year ended March 31st from £604.2m a year earlier. Revenue for the period rose to £1.7bn from £1.6bn before.
Fresnillo and Randgold Resources both tracked gold and silver prices higher, while Antofagasta shareholders were encouraged by a rise in the price of copper futures.
Meanwhile, Royal Mail fell into the bottom spot after it warned on future competitive pressures and despite posting solid numbers. But Panmure Gordon was one of several brokers to reiterate a 'hold' recommendation on the shares. Analyst Gert Zonneveld said longer term prospects remained attractive and he expected "an element of regulatory intervention to protect RMG's need to achieve a commercial return on its activities".
However, he noted: "The company is facing a number of headwinds. The competitive market on the parcels side is more intense and the company is taking steps to remain leader in this growing market [...] On the letters front, direct delivery is the main concern."
AstraZeneca fell even though reports emerged that its largest shareholder had ratcheted up the pressure on its board to engage with Pfizer over a possible sale. US private equity group BlackRock, which holds an 8% stake in the pharmaceuticals group, is understood to support the Anglo-Swedish outfit's decision not to accept its rival's £55-share offer.
Royal Dutch Shell fell after announcing it will cancel its popular scrip dividend programme from the current quarter, which analysts said was a "high-profile source of embarrassment". The oil giant said the cancellation meant the second quarter interim dividend and future dividends, forecast at $11.8bn for the full year, will be settled entirely in cash, rather than offering a share-based alternative, resulting in "a more efficient share buy-back programme".
Marks & Spencer declined after broker Citigroup cut its rating on the stock to 'neutral' from 'buy', while trimming its target price from 510p to 465p. Berenberg retained its 'hold' position on M&S, but sliced its target price from 415p to 395p.
Unilever tracked lower after it agreed to sell its North America pasta sauces brands, Ragu and Bertolli, for $2.15bn cash to Japan's Mizkan Group. The annual turnover for Ragu and Bertolli is more than $600m.
FTSE 100 - Risers
SABMiller (SAB) 3,375.50p +3.56%
Fresnillo (FRES) 851.50p +2.65%
ARM Holdings (ARM) 880.50p +2.26%
Antofagasta (ANTO) 787.50p +2.14%
Randgold Resources Ltd. (RRS) 4,543.00p +1.98%
Aberdeen Asset Management (ADN) 436.80p +1.82%
Smith & Nephew (SN.) 952.00p +1.71%
Whitbread (WTB) 4,141.00p +1.69%
Petrofac Ltd. (PFC) 1,240.00p +1.64%
Imperial Tobacco Group (IMT) 2,685.00p +1.44%
FTSE 100 - Fallers
Royal Mail (RMG) 523.50p -8.96%
Royal Dutch Shell 'B' (RDSB) 2,454.50p -3.80%
AstraZeneca (AZN) 4,323.50p -2.18%
BG Group (BG.) 1,241.50p -1.59%
RSA Insurance Group (RSA) 485.60p -1.18%
Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) 447.80p -0.99%
SSE (SSE) 1,545.00p -0.96%
Barratt Developments (BDEV) 353.90p -0.87%
Unilever (ULVR) 2,672.00p -0.85%
IMI (IMI) 1,529.00p -0.65%