FTSE edges higher but Reckitt hit by JP Morgan downgrade

Mining and banking shares are leading the way as the market holds steady at a three week high.

But leading shares are being held back by a number of major companies going ex-dividend and a downgrade of Reckitt Benckiser.

So overall, ahead of a number of key economic figures between now and the end of the week, the FTSE 100 is up just 8.28 points at 6660.89. Later comes a US ADP jobs survey ahead of Friday’s non-farm payroll numbers, while on Thursday the European Central Bank meets to decide whether to authorise negative interest rates or bond buying to push down the euro and attempt to cope with deflationary fears.

Among the risers Mexican silver miner Fresnillo is up 22p at 868p, while Antofagasta has added 14p to 853.5p. Barclays is 1.7p better at 239.15p and Royal Bank of Scotland has risen 1.7p to 318.8p.

But Reckitt is down 53p at £48.53 after JP Morgan Cazenove cut its target price from £44.50 to £42.50 with a neutral rating, a day after a positive note from Morgan Stanley. JP Morgan said:

We believe Reckitt is at a strategic turning point with several balance sheet catalysts (RB Pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter M&A). Yet, we believe a lot of these are already positively reflected in the shares’ 25% premium rating to the sector. Conversely any setback on these events could lead to a 10%-15% downside, with missing on the OTC deal as the biggest potential risk. At the operating level, we expect the first quarter to be weak and core earnings growth slowing to [an estimated] 1.0% compound annual growth rate 2014-16E.

As chief executive Rakesh Kapoor has vied to consolidate the OTC market, the potential acquisition of Merck OTC would be welcomed though the share rerating suggests the market seems to price a successful yet expensive deal (at $ 11bn, around 7% earnings per share accretive). Yet we argue that Pharma groups Novartis and Bayer have a strong hand as they can bargain with their animal health assets, a more value creative option for Merck than mere cash. Losing out on the deal would be a setback with important de- rating risk.

[There is] uncertainty ahead [for RB Pharmaceuticals]. We expect a tough year as share erosion and potential competitive entrance should dent profit by 20%. As the market awaits management’s update on RB Pharmaceutical’s ‘strategic review’, we believe a spin off looks increasingly most likely, with a fair value of £1.3bn (185p a share).

The FTSE 100 ex-dividend companies include Resolution, down 10.6p to 293.1p, Pearson, 29p lower at £10.15, and Aviva, down 4.1p at 488p.

Among the mid-caps Amec has added 27p to £11.98 after Morgan Stanley raised its recommendation from underweight to equal weight and its price target from £11 to £12.35. The bank said:

We see a positively skewed risk-reward around [Amec’s] firm offer for Foster Wheeler. We expect the stock to re-rate as the deal completion becomes likely due to potential synergies. Alternatively, we believe the deal not progressing could trigger a £400m buyback.

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