Rundown: Stocks firm, GVC/Ladbrokes, L&G results

-Europe, UK shares open higher

-Nikkei finishes up 1.5% after worst day this year

-GVC & Ladbrokes Coral in advanced merger talks

-L&G says 2017 to be best year yet

-Disney bids for 21st Century Fox assets, incl Sky

-Facebook climbs 2% in tech recovery

-Bitcoin hits $14k

-Gold drops toward 4-month low

-Oil stable after 3% drop on Weds

Europe opens higher

Shares in the UK and Europe opened higher on Thursday in a sign confidence is returning following a calmer day on Wall Street. Shares of Sky were leading the FTSE 100 higher over the chance media-heavyweight Disney will take the stake in the company owned by Fox.

Third time’s charm for GVC & Ladbrokes

Shares of Ladbrokes gained a quarter in value on Thursday after rival gambling group GVC made a new conditional £3.1bn offer for the company. The market cap of Ladbrokes Coral was £2.59bn as of Wednesday. GVC has offered 32.7p cash and 0.141 GVC shares for each Ladbrokes shares plus up to a further 42.8p could be payable. A formal announcement is subject to certain conditions, namely the result of the government review in to fixed-odds betting terminals. The suggestion from the two companies that Kenneth Alexander would be CEO of the enlarged group demonstrates the talks are well advanced.

Ladbrokes shares had until recently been languishing near record lows at around 100p The shares have been edging up over the last few weeks, in part over speculation GVC may step in for a third attempt at a takeover. The strong market reaction reflects the higher bid and because another offer wasn’t expected so soon. It was thought GVC would need the government’s final ruling on fixed-odds betting machines before being able to properly value Ladbrokes. GVC have sidestepped the FO betting ruling with a conditional offer.

It’s the second merger in as many days in response to tougher times on the UK high street. Retail property firms Hammerson & Intu announced a tie-up on Wednesday. Fixed odds betting aside, high street retail is in a long term decline as people shift their shopping and gambling online. The latest inflation-induced squeeze on the UK high street looks like it has forced Ladbrokes to face the music. We think the merger offers GVC some strength and depth while giving Ladbrokes the opportunity at international and online expansion.

L&G says 2017 to be best year yet

Shares of L&G have gained ground as the company prepared shareholders for a record year thanks to sales of its retail retirement products. L&G shares have recouped the ‘annuity crisis’ losses. As long as UK investor inflows continue, these results bode well for new record highs for L&G shares in 2018.

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