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Even if Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France triumph (mentioned twice in the results statement) had not taken place, BSkyB would still have had plenty to crow about in its full-year results.
The group is adding new households and new products at impressive rates, while holding on to existing customers more tightly than in the previous year.
Shareholders, meanwhile, are seeing the benefit of double-digit rises in profits and free cash flow, through a 9 per cent rise in the full-year dividend and a further share buyback programme of £500m, amounting to 4 per cent of the equity.
With such an enviable performance, it seems almost indelicate to note a couple of operational uncertainties. The first is how BSkyB will cope with BT’s foray into television; and the second is whether it will recognise when spending vast amounts on football rights stops being money well spent and starts being a matter of overpaying, given how well it has built a broad offer in sports and in entertainment.
Such questions, however, are insignificant compared with the Murdochian shadow over the stock from the continuance of the 39.1 per cent News Corp stake.
The collapse of News Corp’s effort to buy the whole group has done more than remove that bid premium. So long as the stake remains, then the likelihood of BSkyB’s attracting another bidder is much reduced. But plans to sell would create a stock overhang.
A decision to sell may not even rest with News Corp, as Ofcom is still assessing whether BSkyB is fit and proper to hold its broadcasting licences. The group has gone to some trouble to prove that it is – not least by commissioning a report from Oxford Economics (also mentioned twice in the results) explaining how much it contributes to the UK. But as part of a decontamination process, Ofcom could require the sale of all or part of the stake.
Jeremy Darroch, BSkyB chief executive, makes light of the impact on the broadcaster of the News Corp effect. It just remains for the share price – down on the year even after Thursday’s rise to 706.5p – to do the same.
Cartoon characters can run over the edge of a cliff and keep going in mid-air before they realise where they are. Sadly for AstraZeneca, this is not an option for pharma groups when sales fall away sharply because patents expire.
Though the group had prepared its audience for disappointment – the abrupt exit of David Brennan as chief executive was something of a clue – it still failed to meet lowered expectations. First-half sales were down 15 per cent to $14bn, with the second quarter worse than the first.
So it is hard to present a convincing picture of how the group is addressing the prospect that half its revenues may disappear through patent expiries by 2016. Even the group’s ability to maintain its full-year financial targets was less than wholly reassuring, since the way of meeting these now includes a one-off tax benefit.
AstraZeneca insists that its quest for a new chief executive has not slowed momentum. The $7bn planned joint takeover with Bristol-Myers Squibb of diabetes drugmaker Amylin
is a sign of this as well as the enthusiasm of Simon Lowth, interim CEO, to fill the top job on a permanent basis.
But until Mr Lowth is confirmed or denied, AstraZeneca will struggle to answer the question whether it should use its firepower to buy growth or to return cash to shareholders as some investors would prefer. Based on 2013 estimates and a closing share price of £29.13, the group is trading on a forward p/e of 7-8 times – a well-deserved discount to peers.
Let’s come to London – there’s a global investment conference! And 17 sector-level conferences! No doubt that is the lure that has brought 4,000 business leaders and policy makers from around the world to the capital for the summer.
David Cameron hosted Thursday’s session at Lancaster House, converted into a British business embassy for the duration of the Olympics, in an initiative he hopes will generate £1bn of UK deals.
That optimistic round number may add to pressure to show the move has been a success. Even so, the government should spare us a flurry of announcements over the coming weeks highlighting deals done or investment secured. As with business-friendly ministerial visits overseas, the value – if any – of these sessions is likely to be in the slow burn of making contacts rather than the quick fix of a contract signing. Attempts to suggest otherwise invite cynicism rather than confidence.