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Tuesday newspaper share tips: British Land, Marks & Spencer

By Digital Look

Date: Tuesday 17 May 2016

Tuesday newspaper share tips: British Land, Marks & Spencer

(ShareCast News) - The relative under-performance of British Land's shares in recent months is arguably a tell for heightened risk aversion among investors, says the Financial Times' s Lex column.
It pointed to the 23 June referendum that would decide whether the UK continued as part of the EU, and further noted British Land looked to be more risk-seeking than rival Land Securities when it came to investing in central London.

British Land's shares are in lockstep, in Lex-speak, with Land Securities's, that behemoth appearing more nervous than the former on London's crane-clogged skyline going forward.

The company's FY results looked fine, with portfolio occupancy at 99%, EPS at 34p and net asset value up 11%. Average debt maturity was more than seven years.

Yet even at more than 700p, the commercial property titan's shares trade at roughly a 25% discount to NAV per share.

The column points to British Land's shares slumping 6% over three days back in February on read-over from Brexit concern, an ordeal shared also by Land Securities.

"Should the UK leave (the EU), expect resurgent correlation as investors reject subtle analysis for something more binary," said Lex, referring to British Land.

It operates with a ratio of debt-to-EBITDA of 11, compared with Land Securities' 7.5.

Lex further noted that while CEO Chris Grigg had guided British Land past a great deal in seven years, he had yet to face a rise in Bank of England's benchmark interest rate, presently at 0.5%.

"And macroeconomic winds can change in more ways than one," said Lex.

Meantime, Marks & Spencer's new CEO, Steve Rowe, appears to be taking a more hands-on approach after a recent cull of senior executives, said The Daily Telegraph's Questor column.

"He will have to do more than just slash costs if he truly wants to turn round the fortunes of the grocer," the column asserted.

M&S' shares are trading at a jot above 430p, following last week's news Rowe would halve the number of senior executives to 11, from 20.

Questor argued the grocer's general merchandising business, which also included homewares, was central to the long-term success of M&S. It contributed 55% of total gross profits.

"M&S surprised the retail industry by launching its women's collection for the autumn and winter season three months ahead of schedule and also made it available to shoppers," the column said.

M&S brought in Hong Kong-based supply chain wizards Mark and Neal Lindsey two years ago, and this has seen costs cut and the supply of clothes improved. The general merchandise business' profit margin was steadily improving.

On food, Questor noted this was the most successful element of M&S' business, with its offering of premium food and ready meals continuing popular with UK customers.

M&S, which is the only one of the big four grocers not to cut its dividend, managed to hike its food sales during the key Christmas period, whereas rivals Tesco and Sainsbury have seen their market share ebb in the face of aggressive cut-price operators Aldi and Lidl.

"Rowe can't always rely on the food business and cost-cutting to deliver steady results. Improving the sales of women's wear is crucial to the success of M&S," said Questor, noting the grocer's investment in its distribution network, website and stores.

"The new boss appears to be doing all the right things and we'd be happy to wait a little bit for that dividend income. Hold," contended Questor.

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