What to watch: PageGroup shares soar, FTSE retreats from post-pandemic high, housebuilders rise as prices hit new record

LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·3-min read
PageGroup plc logo. Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty
PageGroup plc logo. Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty

Here are some of the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

PageGroup shares soar

Shares in white-collar recruiter PageGroup (PAGE.L) popped 10% higher on Friday, to its highest value in two and a half years, after it revealed a record month in Germany, Italy, Spain and South East Asia last month.

The company said business had picked up month-by-month throughout the first quarter of this year, with overall gross profit at £184.2m ($ ), which was up 2% quarter-on-quarter but down 9.9% on a year ago.

First-quarter profit rose 5.1% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which makes up half of the company's profit, and 14.8% in Asia Pacific.

Full-year operating profits are still expected to be within the range of £90m and £100m, it said. Operating profit was £17m in 2020 and £146.7m in 2019.

"This noticeable improvement in March was seen throughout the group and was achieved despite the backdrop of continued and increasing restrictions or lockdowns in many of our markets." Steve Ingham, chief executive, said.

“At this stage of the recovery, it is not easy to determine whether the improved performance is the result of pent-up supply and demand, or the beginning of a sustainable trend."

PageGroup shares climbed to their highest level since October 2018. Chart: Yahoo Finance
PageGroup shares climbed to their highest level since October 2018. Chart: Yahoo Finance

FTSE retreats from post-pandemic high

London's benchmark index fell around 0.27% on Friday morning as its recent rally ran out of steam. 

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) is still up around 3% this week, however, after hitting its strongest since February 2020 on Thursday.

UK stocks have been powered higher in recent sessions by optimism about the next stage of economic reopening in Britain on Monday. Economists believe pent up demand could lead to a mini-economic boom as restrictions lift. Private sector data published on Thursday showed UK construction activity was already at a six-and-a-half-year high in March.

READ MORE: UK stocks continue to rally amid construction boom

"It's been a very good week for UK equities as the blue chips finally broke out to post-pandemic highs and the mid-caps on the FTSE 250 hit an all-time high," Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said.

"Lots of reasons behind the positive moves in UK equities this year: a vaccine rollout of immense success and an expected economic bounce back as activity returns towards normal both here in Britain and globally are supportive. 

But you could also look to the relative underperformance of UK equities as a factor - from a low bar they are finally catching up, you could say."

Housebuilders rise as prices hit new record

Housebuilders received a lift on Friday after it was revealed that average house prices in the UK soared to a record high of £254,606 ($348,885) in March, a 1.1% jump month-on-month after a subdued start to the year.

It marked the first rise since November last year.

According to Halifax’s house price index, which tracks the prices of houses on which it offers mortgages, property values were 6.5% higher last month, or £15,430 in cash terms, compared with a year ago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest quarter, ending 31 March, house prices edged 0.3% higher than the preceding three months, data showed.

Persimmon (PSN.L), Barratt Developments (BDEV.L), Taylor Wimpey (TW.L) and Rightmove (RMV.L) all pushed higher on the day on the back of the news.

“Casting our minds back 12 months, few could have predicted quite how well the housing market would ride out the impact of the pandemic so far, let alone post growth of more than £1,000 per month on average,” Russell Galley, managing director at Halifax, said.

“The continuation of government support measures has been key in boosting confidence in the housing market.”

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