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Are these the best FTSE 250 stocks to watch in March 2024?


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easyJet, Royal Mail, PZ Cussons, Wizz Air and Crest Nicholson could be the five best FTSE 250 stocks to watch next month. These shares have been selected for recent market news.

ftse 250Source: Bloomberg
 

Written by: Charles Archer | Financial Writer, London
 

The FTSE 250 has fallen by 2.1% year-to-date, 5.9% over the past year, and by more than 5,000 points since September 2021 to circa 19,100 points today. Unlike its older brother — the FTSE 100, whose constituents derive the majority of their income from overseas — the FTSE 250 is far more domestically focused.

And on the question on whether the UK will see the desired soft landing — the jury is still out.

In terms of fiscal policy, the spring budget is due to be announced on 6 March. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has intoned that the scope for tax cuts is limited, a position also held by the International Monetary Fund.

On the other hand, a general election must be held within the next 11 months, the Conservatives are trailing in the polls, and tax cuts can be popular with voters.

In terms of monetary policy, there appears to be good news on the horizon. While the Bank of England has kept the base rate at 5.25% since September 2023, it now expects CPI inflation to fall to 2% by May. For context, Governor Andrew Bailey has specifically noted that ‘we need to see more evidence that inflation is set to fall all the way to the 2% target, and stay there, before we can lower interest rates.’

There is a danger that inflation could resurge later on in the year, as the impact of above-inflation pay rises and new supply chain challenges in the Red Sea poses fresh problems. But the markets are pricing in rate cuts in 2024, and this in theory will help the best FTSE 250 shares to grow.

Of course, this potential advantage must also be weighed against recession risk, making investing decisions increasingly more complex.

Top FTSE 250 shares to watch

These shares have been selected for recent market news and are not investment advice.

Crest Nicholson

Crest Nicholson's 2023 full-year results may make for poor reading — but for perspective, the UK housing market slowed drastically last year in response to rising mortgage costs and falling sales volume.

Consequentially, the housebuilder saw revenue fall by 28% year-over-year to £657.5 million, reflecting ‘weakness in the housing market.’ And completions fell steeply from 2,734 in 2022 to just 2,020 in 2023 — with pretax profit falling from £137.8 million to just £41.4 million in the year.

Profitability has been hit by increased costs at legacy sites including its Brightwells Yard regeneration scheme in Farnham, alongside a possible £13 million legal bill to settle costs arising from a 2021 fire at one of its apartment sites.

Issuing its third profit warning in six months, outgoing CEO Peter Truscott noted that these were ‘a disappointing set of results in FY23.’ However, the company is getting a new CEO in the form of Persimmon’s chief commercial officer Martyn Clark. And the Barratt-Redrow merger could spark further interest in the company — especially at its current valuation.

PZ Cussons

PZ Cussons is also in hot water. The consumer goods titan’s half-year results saw the stock slump as it slashed adjusted operating profit forecasts for the full year to between £55 million and £60 million — down from previous expectations of between £61.5 million and £68.2 million, and also a significant drop from the £73.3 million generated in fiscal 2023.

For context, revenue fell by 17.8% to £277.1 million between June and November — and the interim dividend was almost halved to just 1.5p per share.

The key problem is arguably the devaluation of the Naira (Nigeria’s currency) as the country is responsible for more than a third of the company’s revenue. However, PZ Cussons still retains significant brand labels including Carex and Imperial Leather, and the current weakness may feel attractive to investors who are prepared to accept the risks.

Wizz Air

Wizz Air's recent Q3 results made for better reading: revenue jumped by 16.8% to €1,064.8 million, while passenger ticket revenue increased by 19.2% to €553.9 million. Meanwhile, the airline saw Available Seat Kilometres (multiply available seats on any given aircraft by the number of kilometres flown on a given flight) rise by a significant 26.9% year-over-year. And it saw record traffic of 15.1 million passengers in the quarter compared to just 12.4 million the year before.

CEO József Váradi enthuses that ‘Wizz Air continued to deliver industry-leading capacity growth during the third quarter…while financial performance in the last quarter was materially affected by the suspension and reallocation of Israel capacity, we maintain our expectations for F24 net income.’

easyJet

easyJet's Q1 results also appeared to be positive — while it made a headline loss before tax of £126 million, this was an improvement on the £133 million of a year ago. Passenger numbers grew by 14%, and easyJet Holidays remain a highlight, with profit more than doubling to £30 million.

Perhaps most importantly in a forward-looking market, the airline reported ‘strong turn of year bookings with seats sold and yield ahead YoY.’ Further, is expects to see more than 25% year-on-year customer growth in easyJet Holidays for FY24.

CEO Johan Lundgren enthuses that ‘we delivered an improved performance in the quarter which is testament to the strength of demand for our brand and network. The popularity of easyJet holidays also continues to grow, with 48% more customers in the period.’ However, the airline did take a £40 million hit from the Middle East conflict.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail’s parent International Distribution Services has seen adjusted operating losses in its recent half-year results rise by 45% year-over-year to £319 million. This was driven by lower parcel volumes and the cost of the pay settlement agreed with the Communication Workers Union.

For context, the parent was fined £5.6 million recently for missing first and second class delivery targets over the 2022-23 financial year. However, regulator OFCOM is considering allowing Royal Mail to reduce its letter delivery service from the current six days a week to as little as three days a week — which could see profitability rise sharply.

 

 
 

This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.

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