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WPP set for its best day in a decade after earnings beat

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Advertising giant WPP posted better-than-expected earnings for its first quarter, as it looks to an uncertain future in the wake of its CEO Martin Sorrell stepping down.

Net sales were down 0.1 percent like-for like, it said Monday, but this beat estimates of a 1 percent drop.

WPP’s Executive Chairman Roberto Quarta said in a statement that the figures were “in line with our expectations” while adding that the company’s 2018 full-year guidance would remain unchanged.

The earnings report follows a flat like-for-like result for the year 2017, the news of which led to a sharp drop in share prices and $2.6 billion wiped off its market cap at the start of March. Former CEO and founder Sorrell described it as “not a pretty year.”

Sorrell stepped down from the company’s leadership in mid-April amid allegations of misconduct, leaving WPP without the man who built it and led with what some described as a cult of personality for 33 years.

“He’s literally Mr. WPP,” one media analyst said. Questions over succession are key to the company’s future, industry analysts broadly agreed. In the meantime, WPP veterans Mark Read and Andrew Scott are serving as joint chief operating officers.

The developments come against the backdrop of a rapidly changing environment for advertisers, as digital giants Facebook and Amazon disrupt traditional industry juggernauts and capture a consistently increasing proportion of market share. Technological changes have also led to greater consolidation among companies and service providers.

WPP shares were up 9 percent as the market opened Monday morning. They were set for their best day in a decade, according to Reuters data.

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Wall Street, Apple Asia suppliers, currencies, oil

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SINGAPORE — Stocks in Japan were set to trade lower at the Friday open, following yet another record session overnight for major indexes on Wall Street.

Futures pointed to a lower open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 28,645 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 28,600. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 28,756.86.

Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 dipped fractionally in morning trade.

Shares of Apple suppliers in the region will be watched after the Cupertino-based tech juggernaut’s stock stateside surged overnight. That came after a top analyst from Morgan Stanley said she expects a record December quarter print for Apple, ahead of the tech giant’s earnings..

Overnight on Wall Street, the Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.6% to close at a new high of 13,530.91 while the S&P 500 gained less than 0.1% to finish its trading day at 3,853.07, eking out another fresh high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, on the other hand, shed 12.37 points to close at 31,176.01.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 90.077 following an earlier high above 90.4.

The Japanese yen traded at 103.49 per dollar, stronger than levels above 103.7 against the greenback seen earlier this week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7765, having risen from levels below $0.77 seen earlier in the trading week.

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Stock futures flat to end record-setting week

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John Nacion | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Contracts tied to the major U.S. stock indexes held around the flatline Thursday evening as Wall Street appeared headed to close out the record-setting week on a muted note.

Dow futures lost 27 points while S&P 500 futures ticked slightly higher. Nasdaq-100 futures fell 5 points, or less than 0.1%.

The after-hours moves came after a strong showing from the Nasdaq Composite earlier in the day during the regular session.

The index rose to another record as investors set bets for strong tech earnings next week. The tech-heavy benchmark climbed 0.6% to close at a new high in large part thanks to a 3.7% pop in Apple shares.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both had more muted sessions, with the former dipping 12 points and the latter up less than 0.1% to eke out another fresh high.

Hopes for a robust earnings season from the country’s largest communications and tech stocks have kept the mega-cap stocks trending upward, and the major indexes near records, during the holiday-shortened week.

Apple and Facebook have risen 7.7% and 8.6%, respectively, this week ahead of their quarterly results, while Microsoft has gained 5.8%.

Wall Street’s eyes are still turned toward Washington as new President Joe Biden works to lay the early foundation of his Covid-19 and economic recovery agenda.

Investors are increasingly confident a pared-down version of Biden’s original $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill will be considered by Congress. Some moderate senators have expressed doubts over the need for another bill, especially one with such a price tag, less than one month after Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus in December.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected on Friday to overwhelmingly confirm former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as Biden’s Treasury secretary. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to lead the department.

In corporate news, shares of IBM fell more than 6% in the extended session after the company reported fourth-quarter sales below where analysts were expecting. Revenue fell 6% on an annualized basis, the fourth consecutive quarter of declines.

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Dr. Fauci says Covid vaccines appear to be less effective against some new strains

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New data shows that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday.

A handful of new strains of the coronavirus have emerged overseas that have given scientists some cause for concern. Some variants that have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more deadly.

While it’s no surprise the virus is mutating, researchers are quickly trying to determine what the changes might mean for recently developed lifesaving vaccines and therapeutics against the disease.

Some early findings that were published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which have yet to be peer reviewed, indicate that the variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments, and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of available vaccines.

However, even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting, Fauci said. Both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be highly effective, creating a “cushion effect” that would allow for some dip in their effectiveness.

A dip in the vaccines’ effectiveness would be “all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can.” Mutations occur when the virus spreads and replicates itself, which can be suppressed if enough people are inoculated against the disease to build so-called herd immunity.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That’s not something that is a very onerous thing, we can do that given the platforms we have,” Fauci said during the White House press briefing.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.

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