The Stocks in the Spotlight Ahead of Britain’s Mini-Budget
Traders are bracing for Friday’s UK mini-budget — the first of Liz Truss’s premiership — which is likely to stimulate the economy with further tax cuts and other business-friendly measures, potentially helping stocks in beaten-down sectors like homebuilders and retail.
A widely-expected halt to planned corporation tax rises could give the broader stock market a boost, particularly the domestic-focused FTSE 250 index, which is nursing a loss of more than 20% this year as the cost-of-living crisis threatens to push Britain into a recession.
“UK consumers and house-buyers look like they will receive support as well as domestic businesses,” Tineke Frikkee, head of UK equity research at Waverton Investment Management, said by email. “This will be good for domestic sectors such as housebuilders, retailers, supermarkets and leisure companies.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng will deliver the fiscal statement in the House of Commons at around 9:30 a.m. local time. Here’s a close look at the sectors in focus:
Kwarteng has already rolled back the rise in National Insurance, an employment tax, brought in by previous chancellor Rishi Sunak. The UK Treasury said Thursday that the 1.25 percentage point hike will be scrapped from Nov. 6. “Taxing our way to prosperity has never worked,” Kwarteng said in a statement.
That decision, alongside the recent household energy price cap, may prevent a further decline in consumer confidence, according to Shore Capital analyst Clive Black. “While so, aggregate demand can still be expected to be much lower for the majority of households as the important fourth quarter arrives,” Black wrote in a note on consumer stocks. JD Sports Fashion Plc on Thursday became the latest high street retailer to flag macroeconomic concerns, while bellwether Next Plc updates next week. Supermarkets such as Tesco Plc could also be impacted.
The FTSE 350 Retailers Index is down 36% this year.
During her leadership campaign, Truss was reported to be considering cutting business rates — a form of property tax on commercial premises. The levy has long been bemoaned by both retailers and leisure operators like pubs and restaurants. JD Wetherspoon Plc and Wagamama-owner Restaurant Group Plc are among the stocks to watch.
A temporary cut to value-added tax has also been touted, while the government has already unveiled a multibillion-pound bailout to help companies with their energy costs.
Homebuilder stocks got a much-needed boost Wednesday following a report saying the government may cut stamp duty. The Times of London said Truss and Kwarteng have been working on a plan to reduce the property transaction tax — something which was also done, on a temporary basis, during the pandemic.
Cuts targeted at first-time buyers would benefit all housebuilders, but more so Persimmon Plc and Vistry Group Plc, while reductions in the tax at the higher end of the market would benefit The Berkeley Group Holdings Plc and Redrow Plc, according to Jefferies analysts Glynis Johnson and Priyal Woolf. Additionally, a potential scrapping of a cap on bankers’ bonuses — or anything else that boosts London as place of employment could benefit Berkeley, too, they said in a note. An index tracking UK homebuilder shares is down 42% this year.
The potential for further windfall taxes is still a concern for many UK energy investors. Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for a fresh levy, though Truss has ruled it out, providing support for shares in companies like British Gas-owner Centrica Plc.
Drax Group Plc, meanwhile, slumped last month after Kwarteng said the company’s burning of US-imported wood pellets for energy “isn’t sustainable.” Any further details on Friday would be closely watched by Drax shareholders.
Ditching the bonus cap would grab headlines, but would be unlikely to move lenders’ shares. Investors are instead focused on rising UK interest rates, with the Bank of England on Thursday hiking again — a move that’s set to further expand profit margins for lenders.
The sector has failed to fully price-in this year’s yield rise amid worries about the impact of recession on loan defaults. That’s left the sector looking “too cheap,” according to UBS analyst Jason Napier.
Shares including NatWest Group Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc were hit earlier this week as Bloomberg reported that the government is considering scrapping interest payouts on some deposits held at the BOE. Analysts questioned the feasibility of such a plan, including Citigroup’s Andrew Coombs, who said in a note that it could “undermine operational independence.” Still, any mention of such a change during the budget speech would be of interest.