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AA delivers boost to Woodford as shares soar

AA delivers boost to Woodford as shares soar
 

Neil Woodford has received a boost from a surge in the shares of AA (AAAA) as the roadside recovery group reported a positive start to the year.

The shares jumped 16.5% to 132.5p, having initially fallen to 110.9p at the open, after reporting £391 million of profits for the 12 months to the end of January, 3% down on the previous year but in line with expectations.

Bullish comments from chief executive Simon Breakwell helped spark a rally in the shares, which have been languishing over the last year after the shock departure of its chairman and a string of profit warnings.

The rally will be welcomed by Woodford, the largest single shareholder in the company, with 15% of the shares, and holdings in both his Woodford Equity Income and Woodford Income Focus funds.

'In February we outlined our strategy - we are if anything more confident we can meet our growth ambitions,' said Breakwell in a mdeia call, according to Reuters.

Breakwell earlier this year overhauled the roadside recovery group and insurer's approach, cutting dividend payments and announcing higher investment levels to fuel growth.

Even with today's jump, the shares have lost half their value over the last year, after the company fired executive chairman Bob Mackenzie for gross misconduct and delivered a string of profit warnings.

But they are up from a low of 71p hit in the aftermath of the latest profit warning in February. 

Woodford had been buying more of the shares as they languished at lows, topping up his stake in February.

His fund group has backed Breakwell's turnaround plan, with analyst Alex Correia saying in February the dividend cut 'should be viewed as a short-term sacrifice which is insubstantial in the context of the long-term value that can be delivered from here'.

Retailers rally

The FTSE 100 meanwhile rose 30 points, or 0.4% to 7,227, with retailers leading the way after Associated British Foods (ABF), up 3.6% at £26.76, reported a resilient performance from its Primark clothing stores chain. That helped Next (NXT) rise 2.4% to £51.86.

On the FTSE 250, JD Sports (JD) added to the bullish sentiment for retailers, as the sportswear chain posted a 25.5% jump in annual profits. Among 'small-cap' stocks, Debenhams (DEB) rose 7.3% to 22.9p.

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