Rail strikes put National Express in the fast lane
BUS and coach operator National Express rode to the rescue for Britons caught up in rail strikes as commuters switched to buses.
It hailed a recovery in passenger numbers and resumed dividend payments for the first time since 2020 when services were hit by Covid restrictions. Shares jumped 10.8pc, or 13.4p, to 137.4p.
Last year Britain faced a wave of rail strikes, forcing commuters to work from home or find other ways to travel. National Express’s UK bus division reported a 39pc increase in passengers.
And nearly 10pc of new customers during the strikes bought another ticket within a month to travel on a non-strike day. Revenue in its Spanish transport business Alsa exceeding €1bn (£887m) for the first time.
It remained upbeat over driver shortages and wage inflation that have hampered its schools bus division in North America.
Across the group, passenger journeys shot up 23pc. Revenue rose 29.4pc to £2.81bn for 2022 but its losses widened from £84.9m to £209.9m because of a writedown at Alsa.
Peel Hunt warned that the ‘risk of strikes hangs over the stock’. Services could come under severe pressure after more than 3,000 West Midlands drivers voted to strike from March 16 over pay.
The FTSE 100 climbed 0.4pc, or 29.11 points, to 7944.04 while the FTSE 250 fell 0.1pc, or 18.95 points, to 19851.65.
M&G was in sharp focus after Sky News reported that the fund manager could be in line for a takeover bid from the Australian investment bank Macquarie. It dipped 0.9pc, or 2p, to 217.3p.
There was also a boost for GSK after the US Food and Drug Administration’s backed the safety and effectiveness of the pharma giant’s vaccine to treat adults aged 60 and above who have respiratory syncytial virus.
It is expected to make a decision by May 3. Shares inched up 1.2pc, or 16.8p, to 1438.8p.
Beazley fell 5.1pc, or 35p, to 647.5p after its profit slumped 48pc to £160m for 2022, as the Lloyd’s of London insurer, which joined the blue-chip index for the first time in December, reported an investment loss of £151m.
The value of its written premiums increased by 14pc to £4.4bn.
Aston Martin gained 5.3pc, or 10.9p, to 218.5p after Deutsche Bank raised the luxury car maker’s target price to 155p from 145p a day after its results for 2022 showed signs of a turnaround.
Also flying high was Wizz Air. The airline added 4.3pc, or 112p, to 2731p after it carried nearly 3.7m passengers last month.
WH Smith joined a growing list of companies which have suffered cyber attacks in 2023. The stationery and book firm said information such as current and former employee data was accessed.
The update followed reports of cyber attacks this year at Morgan Advanced Materials, JD Sports and Royal Mail. WH Smith fell 1.9pc, or 30p, to 1554p.
Vesuvius, which makes smelting equipment and technology for steel plants, also suffered a cyber attack last month and expects to pay a one-off cost of between £3m and £5m. It cheered a record results for 2022 with revenue 25pc to £2.1bn while profit jumped 62pc to £207m. Shares rose 2.7pc, or 11.2p, to 434.2p.
Begbies Traynor rose 1.3pc, or 1.8p, to 139p to after the restructuring specialist bought Mark Jenkinson & Son, the Sheffield firm that specialises in property auctions, for £400,000.
The over-50s holiday and financial services firm Saga slumped 4.8pc, or 8.4p, to 166.1p after it failed to reach an agreement with Open Insurance over the sale of its underwriting business.