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Hiscox slumps into full year loss after $475m of COVID-19 claims

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10.35am: Insurer hit by pandemic payout costs

Insurer Hiscox Ltd (LON.HSX) has seen its shares drop sharply as it revealed the scars to its accounts from the pandemic.

It fell into a $268m full year loss, compared to a profit of $53m last year, and admitted its growth ambitions for 2021 were modest. With the dividend cancelled for the year, its shares have dropped 11.37% or 111.6p to 870p. Analysts at UBS suggested the outlook statement would prompt modest profit downgrades and – correctly – predicted a negative reaction.

Hiscox chairman Robert Childs said: “2020 got off to a good start and then came the global pandemic. Over my 48 years in the business, I have experienced most of the challenges that Mother Nature and mankind have thrown at the insurance industry, but Covid-19 and its repercussions have been one of the most testing. As a result, we expect to pay $475 million in Covid-related claims net of reinsurance, the majority for event cancellation and the remaining for business interruption and other claims. These are large sums and disappointingly means that we will make a pre-tax loss for the year of $268 million. Without Covid-19 we would have produced a profit of $207 million.”

It has also seen its brand damaged this year after arguments with customers over pandemic payouts, which was only resolved in the Supreme Court.

Childs said: “For Hiscox UK, Covid-19 brought about a dispute with a number of our customers over the wording in some commercial property policies. Our commitment to putting things right for our customers has long been the cornerstone of the Hiscox brand. But for the first time, our reputation for paying claims quickly and without fuss came under intense scrutiny. We regret any dispute with a customer, but particularly where the policy wording was not as clear as it should have been. That is why we willingly agreed to be one of the group of insurers that assisted the FCA with the test case and we welcome the finality and certainty the Supreme Court Judgment has brought. We are now paying covered claims as quickly as possible.”

9.38am: Kitchen products firm sees strong recovery

Norcros PLC (LON.NXR), has built up a strong gain after a recovery in demand for its kitchen and bathroom products. Its shares have jumped 18p or 7.66% to 253p after it said full year profits were likely to beat expectations.

A strong recovery in the second quarter of its financial year has continued, with revenues for the four months to 7 February 2021 rising by 117% compared to the same period last year. New houses being built in the UK boosted demand, as did increased activity levels in repair and maintenance in the UK and South Africa.

It said: “The Board remains confident that the Group’s leading market positions, established brands, broad distribution channels and experienced management team will deliver further growth, notwithstanding that economic conditions are likely to remain uncertain as our main markets continue to adjust to the impact of the pandemic. Consequently, it is now expected that reported underlying profit for the year to 31 March 2021 will be no less than £28m on a post-IFRS 16 basis and ahead of current market expectations of circa £25m”.

Peter Ashworth at Shore Capital said: “This update is highly positive. The Group’s trading performance in the second half has improved markedly, with revenue ahead of the comparable period by some margin…The indication that underlying profit is likely to be no less than £3m ahead of consensus demonstrates the overall strength of the Group’s trading performance, in challenging market conditions, given the pandemic. The shares have performed strongly in the last three months to date, rising by 20%. Further outperformance is likely, given this positive trading update.”

8.42am: Barkby upbeat despite pub struggles

Investors in The Barkby Group PLC (LON.BARK), the gastropubs operator which turned itself into a miniconglomerate, have cheered its latest update despite the impact of COVID-19 on its business.

The company made a £2m net loss in the six months to December, not helped by its pubs and coffee shops having to shut during lockdown. But its diversification plan has helped support the business, with the property division in particular performing well. It completed a development in Hastings in August 2020 and sold it to Hastings Borough Council with a net balancing payment receipt of £1.8m, and has just announced the exchange of contracts for the sale of a development site at Saffron Walden.

Investments in SleepHub, which specialises in sleep aids, and healthcare group Verso Biosense are both expected to pay off in terms of earnings next year.

Executive chairman Charles Dickson, said: “Barkby has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic largely due to the success of our highly cash generative commercial property development business and activity has resumed apace. As we come out of lockdown, our pubs and coffee business are poised for significant growth and a return to profitability. The Group’s investments in SleepHub and Verso Biosense are performing well.  Our liquidity is strong and the diversification of the business means that the Group is in a strong position to benefit from the lifting of government lockdown restrictions. We look forward to the next 12 months with confidence.”

Its shares are up 0.75p or 3.57% to 21.75p on the news.

Elsewhere Jersey Oil and Gas (LON.JOG) has jumped 11.73% or 26.5p to 252.5p following a positive report on its development project in the Greater Buchan Area of the North Sea, which has an estimated 172 million barrels of discovered and recoverable oil volumes. 

Chief executive Andrew Benitz said: “The Greater Buchan Area has the scale to be extremely low carbon through platform electrification at the same time as offering highly favourable project economics. As a result of a significant amount of work from Jersey Oil & Gas’ excellent project team, working with specialist contractors, consultants and service providers, we are well on track to deliver on our Licence commitment to deliver the Concept Select to the Oil and Gas Authority (“OGA”) by July this year.

“We now plan to launch a farm-out process, which we expect to be highly attractive to a wide range of oil companies in light of the project’s scale, economics and low carbon potential through platform electrification, characteristic of certain fully electrified fields offshore Norway.”

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