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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

UK’s big winners and battered losers in stocks in 2017

With impending Brexit as an overhang, there were dramatic stock movements in Britain’s FTSE index

NMC Health has focused on the GCC, particularly the UAE, Saudi and Oman, for its expansion.  Ravindranath K / The National
NMC Health has focused on the GCC, particularly the UAE, Saudi and Oman, for its expansion.  Ravindranath K / The National

From Provident Financial’s 66 per cent plunge in a day to Carillion Plc shedding two-thirds of its value in three sessions, there’s been no shortage of drama in UK stocks this year.

The biggest losers of 2017 have been marked by sensational and rapid declines, while the winners -- including Games Workshop’s 266 per cent rally -- have been gradual triumphs. There was no unifying theme, though analysts suggested a degree of investor complacency and a lack of foreign buyers under the shadow of Brexit may have exacerbated selloffs.

Investors are “maybe not quite so well prepared for the surprises,” due to the overall quietness in stock markets, IG market analyst Chris Beauchamp said in an interview, noting that funds would rather cut the losers completely than give companies a chance to redeem themselves after profit warnings.

At the same time, the UK’s impending exit from the European Union has dissuaded overseas fund managers who may in the past have stepped in to buy stocks at bargain prices, according to London Capital Group’s senior market analyst Jasper Lawler. That’s making declines for individual UK stocks “specifically noticeable,” Mr Lawler said in an interview.

Here’s a curated list of the FTSE All-Share Index’s biggest winners and losers of the year:

The Winners

Games Workshop: Up 266 per cent

The maker of Warhammer figures upgraded profit expectations three times in 2017. The weak pound has made its products -- tabletop miniature war games -- cheaper for overseas customers, who account for more than half the company’s revenue. A positive reception for a new edition of board game Warhammer 40k, which takes the game out of its Lord of the Rings-style roots and into a far-future conflict, has also helped the stock.

KAZ Minerals: Up 135 per cent

The Kazakhstan-focused copper miner has been rewarded for “exceptional project execution,” Macquarie analyst Alon Olsha said by email. Two new projects have ramped up “seamlessly,” which is rare in the mining industry. While copper’s gain this year has helped, “ultimately it was factors within management control that led to the stock more than doubling over the year,” Mr Olsha said.

Sophos Group: Up 115 per cent

With returns beating Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity peers, investors and analysts alike are bullish on Sophos’s cashflow and the high proportion of subscription revenue, which provides greater visibility on future growth. The company is Morgan Stanley’s European technology pick for 2018. Not to mention that Stifel analyst George O’Connor says there could be “a whole range of companies” who would be interested in acquiring it.

Wizz Air Holdings: Up 99 per cent

Eastern Europe’s largest budget airline has been rewarded for its bullishness. It said in May it would add more capacity in its core Eastern Europe market and in November detailed plans to build a UK arm into a significant national operation in its own right. JPMorgan named it one of its top European airline picks for 2018 on the potential for further growth arising from the failures of Air Berlin and Monarch Airlines.

NMC Health: Up 88 per cent

The London-listed provider of healthcare in the Middle East has been added to both the FTSE 100 Index and Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index this year. Its also been active in M&A and partnerships, and is looking for more deals, according to its chief executive officer. Analysts are overwhelmingly positive, with 11 out of 12 who cover the stock calling it a buy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Read more:

NMC Healthcare says to deploy $800m ‘war chest’ from 2018

UK builder Carillion muted on prospects for Gulf construction

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The Losers

Carillion: Down 93 per cent

Three years ago, Carillion attempted a merger with Balfour Beatty. Now its market capitalization is just a tiny fraction of its peer. The construction company has issued three profit warnings since July, brought in KPMG to look at its accounts, has been attempting to dispose of assets and may see in the new year by breaching its debt covenants. Rival Interserve has faced similar problems writing down unprofitable contracts; that stock is down 74 per cent this year.

Provident Financial: Down 68 per cent

Carillion won the race to the bottom, but Provident provided the most spectacular moment. The subprime lender fell 66 per cent in a day in August on a “quadruple whammy” of bad news: a regulatory probe into its Vanquis Bank credit-card unit, a profit warning, scrapping the interim dividend and its chief executive stepping down. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Provident said in December that car finance unit Moneybarn was being investigated.

Dixons Carphone: Down 43 per cent

An unexpected forecast for a drop in annual profit in August hammered the mobile phone and electronics retailer. Analysts complained that the company didn’t address investor concerns earlier in the year. The retailer was squeezed by customers holding on to handsets longer, with a relative dearth of hot new devices meaning less appetite for upgrades. A new plan for the mobile-phone unit late in the year was welcomed, but only partially made up the ground lost.

Petrofac: Down 42 percent

Getting investigated by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office is a sure-fire way to land on the losers list. Oil services firm Petrofac first flagged a bribery-related probe in May and, a few weeks later, suspended its chief operating officer. Later in the same disastrous month, Moody’s Investors Service cut the company’s credit rating to junk. RBC Capital Markets analyst Victoria McCulloch says the SFO probe will remain an “overhang” in 2018.

Centrica: Down 41 per cent

It was already shaping up to be a difficult year for Centrica as the UK government touted plans to cap some household energy bills. But things went from bad to worse in November when shares in the owner of British Gas fell the most in two decades after a profit warning. The energy company saw UK customers desert and drew questions from analysts about the sustainability of its dividend.