What to watch: Resilient Unilever sales, G4S axes dividend, Carnival cruise delays

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·5 min read
Unilever logo
Unilever sales were resilient in the first half of its financial year. Photo: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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

Unilever sales resilient despite coronavirus crisis

Consumer goods giant Unilever (ULVR.L) said on Thursday that underlying sales in the first half of its financial year fell by just 0.1%, demonstrating “resilience” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pre-tax profits climbed by 4% to €4.5bn (£3.5bn) in the six months to the end of June 30.

The maker of Marmite, Dove, Hellmann’s, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream said that it benefitted from household stockpiling in March in both North America and Europe.

“Consumption patterns then normalised in the second quarter with heightened levels of demand for hygiene and in home food products,” the company said.

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said the strong results “demonstrated the resilience of the business” as firms across the world dealt with the economic impacts of sweeping coronavirus lockdowns.

“From the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been guided by clear priorities in line with our multi-stakeholder business model to protect our people, safeguard supply, respond to new patterns of consumer demand, preserve cash, and support our communities,” he said.

Shares in Unilever climbed by 7% following the results.

Security firm G4S axes dividend amid coronavirus slump

Security services firm G4S (GFS.L) said on Thursday that it would scrap its dividend to protect the company’s “financial strength” during the coronavirus pandemic, even as it reported strong profit growth during the first half of its financial year.

The FTSE 250 (^FTMC) firm said that pre-tax profits climbed to £217m in the six months to the end of June, more than double what it posted during the same period last year.

But the figure was inflated by the sale of its conventional cash businesses to Brink (BCO), which netted the company £171m.

Dented by the economic impacts of coronavirus, revenue during the period fell by 7.4% to £3.5bn, even as it came in above analyst estimates.

The company noted that “the path of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact remain uncertain” and said that it would not pay an interim dividend for its 2020 financial year.

“The board intends to resume dividend payments once the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has reduced to an acceptable level,” said chief executive Ashley Almanza.

Carnival's Princess Cruises face further pandemic delays

Cruise operator Carnival (CCL.L) has confirmed further delays to restarting operations at one of its key subsidiaries, citing the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide.

Carnival said in an investor update on Thursday that its sub-brand Princess Cruises would be extending a pause on operations in Asia and the Americas until 15 December. Voyages departing from Australia will be paused until 31 October.

“We share in our guests’ disappointment in cancelling these cruises,” Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises president, said in a statement.

“We look forward to the days when we can return to travel and the happiness it brings to all who cruise.”

Stock in Carnival was trading marginally higher in both London and the pre-market on Wall Street despite the announcement.

BA pilots urged to take pay cuts to limit job losses

A union is urging British Airways (BA) pilots to accept drastic cuts to pay and hours to limit mass job losses, under a deal agreed with airline chiefs.

Thousands of pilots will vote over the next week on a deal negotiated between the UK’s flag carrier and the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) over the past three months.

International Airlines Group (IAG.L), which owns BA, came under heavy fire from unions and MPs after announcing plans to axe up to 1,255 pilots and up to 12,000 jobs in total earlier this year. The company warned in April it had run out of other ways to save cash as the pandemic has hammered its revenue.

The deal could see compulsory pilot job losses limited to around 270 staff, according to the union.

BALPA’s general secretary Brian Strutton said forced redundancies were “a matter of huge regret,” but said the union had negotiated the best package possible.

European stocks rise ahead of key vote on EU recovery plan

European stocks rose on Thursday even as lawmakers in the European Parliament were expected to reject the expansive budget and €750bn (£682bn, $870bn) recovery plan agreed by EU leaders earlier this week.

While the parliament is thought to be supportive of the expansive stimulus package, it has taken umbrage at cuts to several of the bloc’s programmes in the separate, but linked, seven-year budget.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) rose by around 0.4%, while London’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) climbed by around 0.6%.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was up by around 0.6%, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) climbed by almost 0.5%.

A draft of a resolution due to be tabled by several of the European parliament’s major political groupings says that it “does not accept” the political agreement reached during a marathon summit of leaders that lasted almost five days.

What to expect in the US

Futures were pointing to a higher open for US stocks on Thursday.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) rose by around 0.4%, while Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) climbed by around 0.3%. Nasdaq futures (NQ=F), meanwhile, were up by around 1%.