MARKET REPORT: Sthree cheers investors

In a time of furlough, mass job cuts in many industries and the prospect of a double-dip recession, a lot has been stacked against recruitment firms. 

Small-cap group Sthree is among the many companies that have been braced for the worst. 

But Sthree gave the market a pleasant surprise by raising its profit outlook yesterday after hiring improved in the United States and Germany. 

In October and early November – which is the tail end of the group’s financial year – Sthree said there was a ‘notable’ rise in recruitment. The most in-demand areas have been in life sciences and technology and comes after the company intentionally put more emphasis in hiring for STEM positions and flexible working. 

It did not mention how things were playing out in the UK. 

Following the boosts in Germany and America, the company now believes profits for the 12 months to November will be ‘marginally above’ the current range of market forecasts. Although this will be a small increase, the indications that things were improving before new restrictions in Europe were brought in bodes well for the period after the latest lockdowns. 

Sthree shares rose 5.9 per cent, or 18p, to 324p, and its peers also rose. 

AIM-listed Staffline Group surged 13.2 per cent, or 4.72p, to 40.5p, Page Group rose 1,8 per cent, or 7.82p, to 436.8p. Hays edged up 1 per cent, or 1.3p, to 134.3p and Robert Walters climbed 2.1 per cent, or 9p, to 435p. 

Estate agency Countrywide jumped 6.1 per cent, or 13.2p, to 230p, after rivals Connells said it has tabled an £82m takeover bid for the Hampton International owner. 

Connells has finished its background checks on Countrywide and has kept its offer at 250p per share. It also criticised Countrywide’s previous plans to get a cash injection from private equity group Alchemy, which it said would not go far enough in rescuing the company. 

The FTSE250 rose by 0.4 per cent, or 75.39 points, to 19582.35, but the FTSE 100 had a more subdued start to the week, despite news that the vaccine developed by Astrazeneca (down 3.8 per cent, or 317p, to 8000p) is highly effective put a rocket under many of the worst-hit travel and leisure stocks. 

The blue-chip index slid 0.3 per cent, or 17.61 points, to 6333.84 – but was held back from making bigger losses by gains among the big oil companies Shell (up 4.7 per cent, or 56p, to 1252.8p) and BP (up 3.7 per cent, or 9.05p, to 253.45p). 

The pair rose in tandem with a spike in oil prices, which were up by 2 per cent last night. 

Brent Crude is now trading at almost $46 a barrel as traders anticipate vaccines will allow global travel to resume – and for more oil to be used as a result. Barclays analysts said they were bullish on crude prices over the next year and that they reckon it will reach $53 a barrel next year. 

Even though the outlook for fossil fuels is improving in the short term, there were more green announcements yesterday. 

The most impressive of these was from AIM-listed Directa Plus. Its shares shot up 48.4 per cent, or 30p, to 92p, after it reported a partner, private firm NexTech, used Directa Plus’s technology to build a prototype battery that can store much more energy than standard lithium-ion batteries. 

Battery technology will be crucial for the world to switch over to using renewables-powered electricity, which is difficult to store. 

Telecoms giant Vodafone failed to rouse investors, on the other hand, by committing to reach net zero emissions by 2040. It fell 1 per cent, or 1.2p, to 121.98p. 

On the junior market, egg-free cake maker Cake Box dipped 1.8 per cent, or 3.5p, to 187.5p, after the lockdown in its first-half dragged revenues down 2 per cent to £8.6m.

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