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Leading UK companies in rude health awaiting Brexit


London (AFP)

British multinationals delivered upbeat earnings for the first half in contrast to a weakening UK growth outlook as the country negotiates its exit from the European Union.

Banks and energy groups in particular enjoyed a strong earnings season, mirroring the situation in the US, even though it was more a result of cost-cutting and favourable currency movements than underlying strength of individual companies.

"If you look at the big guys they?re doing pretty well," ETX Capital analyst Neil Wilson told AFP.

"Banks HSBC and Standard Chartered did well, oil majors are turning profits again and miners are enjoying strong recoveries."

Wilson added: "These are all exposed to international markets heavily so insulated from Brexit pretty much entirely. I think it's worth noting the international nature of the FTSE 100 and bulk of earnings from abroad."

Companies like oil giant BP, mining group Rio Tinto and drugmaker AstraZeneca -- which all trade on London's benchmark FTSE 100 stocks index -- report in dollars and so have benefitted from a Brexit-fuelled slump in the pound.

In addition they are not really exposed to happenings in the wider UK economy owing to the international nature of their businesses.

"Seventy percent of FTSE sales are derived outside the UK so earnings are more a reflection of global growth and (the situation with) commodities than the UK economy," said Caroline Simmons, deputy head of the UK investment office at UBS Wealth Management.

The Bank of England on Thursday cut its UK growth forecasts with governor Mark Carney warning that high inflation triggered by the pound's slump had hurt consumer spending.

His warning, coming after the BoE left its key interest rate at a record-low 0.25 percent at a regular policy meeting this week, sent the pound tumbling to a nine-month low against the euro, as policymakers appeared to shift away from raising borrowing costs any time soon.

With consumers feeling the pinch, Brexit could still affect some sectors negatively, "especially financials, consumer and beverages and domestic mid-caps, although this is partially priced" in already, Simmons added.

"However if Brexit news deteriorates then it could cause renewed pound weakness which would benefit the international companies in other sectors."

Among the banks, HSBC and bailed-out RBS stood out, with the latter on Friday rebounding into a second-quarter profit.

"We're doing what we said we would at our full-year results in February -- growing income, reducing cost and improving returns for shareholders, while also starting to deliver a better service for customers," said RBS chief executive Ross McEwan.

Earlier in the week, HSBC announced rising first-half profits as it slashed costs and as revenues climbed on recovering financial markets.

Thanks to net profit jumping 10 percent to almost $7.0 billion, HSBC said it would buy back about $2.0 billion worth of its shares -- news that sent the stock's price higher.

-Property woes -

Away from the successful multinationals, Britain's construction and property sectors have found it much harder in recent months.

London estate agent Foxtons recently said it had fallen victim to the lower demand as it reported a 64-percent drop in pre-tax profits for the first six months of the year.

Foxtons boss Nic Budden said in a statement that the company's performance "has been further impacted by unprecedented economic and political uncertainty".

The Foxtons announcement was the latest sign of a cooling in Britain's property market as what happens in London tends to have a knock-on effect around the country.

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