FTSE dips slightly but investors flock to the housebuilding sector

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At 11.45am, the benchmark FTSE 100 traded 0.1% lower at 7,122. Topping the better performers were housebuilders led by Barratt Developments, up 5.7% to 678.6p after an upbeat trading statement that helped drive investor interest in the sector.

In the wider market, concerns about stagflation appeared to be compounded by latest official economic data that showed the UK grew at a slower-than-expected 0.4% in August, while the month earlier number was retrospectively downgraded.

Growth was supported as bars, restaurants and festivals benefited from the first full month without Covid-19 restrictions in England. At the same time, supply chain issues and higher energy prices (particularly gas) are forcing up the cost of living at a pace not seen in many years.

Online beauty and health products seller THG, also known as The Hut Group, continued to fall on after a torrid Tuesday which saw its share price lose more than a third of its value.

A presentation to analysts and key investors designed to reassure about the long-term prospects for its Ingenuity e-commerce platform spectacularly mis-fired. One newspaper reported the capital markets event was met with a 'barrage of sell orders'.

One analyst who attended the event said they were left disappointed by the lack of financial detail put forward by THG.

The troubles continued on Wednesday with THG shares falling another 4.4% to 272.4p, despite the company releasing a statement saying it 'knows of no notifiable reason for the material share price movement, and that no material new information was disclosed at the event.'

Cyber security firm Darktrace saw its share price rise 4.7% to 879.5p after growing its customer base by 42.7% year-on-year in its first quarter to 5,975 customers.

Annualised recurring revenue as of 30 September 2021 was $381.5 million, up 45.9% on last year. Darktrace is now expecting year-over-year revenue growth of between 37% and 39% (previously 35% to 37%) as foreign exchange headwinds look likely to have a smaller impact than had been previously forecast.

Online takeaways platform Just Eat Takeaway processed 266 million orders in its third quarter, representing a 25% increase compared with the same period of 2020. However, the shares fell nearly 3% despite the company reporting gross transaction value of €6.8 billion in the third quarter of 2021, up 23%. The company reiterated guidance for the full year 2021, implying order growth, excluding its US acquisition Grubhub, above 45% year-on-year.

Car dealer Vertu Motors rallied 4% to 56.8p after posting half year adjusted profit before tax of £51.8 million, a steep recovery from last year's pandemic-impacted £16.9 million.

The company said vehicle sales volumes were running ahead of market trends in all areas, echoing recent commentary from rival dealerships.

Pub company Marston's advanced 0.4% as it saw a return to sales growth in the fourth quarter of its financial year compared to the same period in 2019 following an easing of lockdowns.

In a trading update for the year through to 2 October, Marston's said sales in the final three months of that year had risen 2% across its managed and franchised pubs compared to 2019.

Interior design and furnishings group Sanderson Design dropped 6% to 198.55p even as it swung to a first-half profit after sales bounced back as lockdowns eased. Sanderson Design, which said it was 'mindful' of cost and supply chain issues, reinstated its interim dividend at 0.75p per share.

Flooring retailer Victoria gained 1.3% to £10.12, having upgraded its annual earnings guidance after benefiting from a rush of redecorating and a hot property market. Victoria's underlying pre-tax profit for the year through 2 April 2022 looks like it will be ahead of consensus market expectations, the company said.

Footwear retailer Shoe Zone jumped 18% to 78.75p on guiding for a swing to a full-year profit following a recovery in sales in the second half. Pre-tax profit for the year to 2 October would be no less than £6.5 million, Shoe Zone said in a trading update.