MARKET REPORT: Gym Group is fighting fit thanks to a surge in membership as it bulks up its business

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A surge in membership put The Gym Group in rude health, with fitness enthusiasts flocking through its doors.

The no-frills chain ended 2018 with 724,000 members, a rise of 117,000 on the previous year.

It bulked up its business, opening 17 branches and acquiring 13 from Easygym, taking it to 158. Profits rose 8.7 per cent to £10million after sales jumped 35.6 per cent to £123.9million.

Richard Darwin, chief executive, said up to 20 more openings were planned this year. These are expected to include its first smaller-format gyms, in shop units abandoned by retailers.

On a roll: Gym Group said it ended 2018 with 724,000 members, a rise of 117,000 on the previous year

Total membership rose to around 800,000 by the end of last month, he added.

Shares jumped 5.2 per cent, or 10.5p, to 213p after the announcement.

Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 continued its winning streak. Led by oil firms, miners and online supermarket Ocado, the blue-chip index was up 0.3 per cent, or 24.81 points, to 7324 when the closing bell rung. 

That was helped by Antofagasta shares, which hit a seven-month high after it revealed a bigger than expected dividend.

Analysts had expected the copper mining giant to slash the payout to 26 cents, or around 20p, per share. But yesterday the company instead said it would hand investors 43.8 cents, or 33p, per share.

Earnings have taken a hit from rising costs and the US-China trade war, which has dented demand, prompting a massive cost-saving programme.

Stock Watch – Learning Technologies

Shares in Learning Technologies Group leapt 15.8 per cent, or 10.8p, to 79p after it revealed bumper profits and promised a £3.3million dividend payout.

The London-based company, which sells digital training content to businesses, reported £3.4million profit for 2018 after an £11,000 loss the previous year.

Sales rose 83 per cent to £93.9million, following its takeovers of data firm Watershed and enterprise software firm Peoplefluent. The dividend will be 0.5p per share.

It said in January that annual copper production rose 3 per cent to 725,300 tons, as production at a mine in northern Chile boomed.

But sales for 2018 were almost flat at £3.6billion, while profits plunged 32 per cent to £944.5million. 

Chief executive Ivan Arriagada said the price of copper had improved this year as talks between the US and China progressed. 

Shares in the firm rose 2.8 per cent, or 26p, to 965.6p.

John Wood Group, an engineer for oil wells and industrials businesses, saw shares plunge 8.1 per cent, or 48.6p, to 550p despite soaring profits from £124.5million to £268.6million. Revenues rose 79 per cent to £8.3billion.

It trumpeted the success of its takeover of rival Amec Foster Wheeler and said it had squeezed even more cost savings than expected. 

But investors were seemingly spooked by a warning that debt reduction would take longer than originally hoped.

TP Icap was up by 4.9 per cent, or 15p, to 318.6p after a 5.2 per cent rise in profits to £245million, helped by demand for its data and analytics services. 

The world’s largest inter-dealer broker – an intermediary between investment banks – also said it was preparing for a No Deal Brexit by making sure it had enough staff on the Continent.

Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury was up 4.7 per cent, or 10.5p, to 236.5p after strong sales of titles by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge and fantasy writer Sarah J Maas. 

Analysts predicted full-year sales of between £162million and £164million when it reports in May, up from £161.5million last year.

Furniture retailer SCS Group climbed 1.8 per cent, or 4p, to 225.5p, with first-half profits of £414,000, up from £545,000 while sales rose from £149.9million to £151.4million.

It warned margins would come under pressure in the second half because of movements in Libor, the interest rate used when banks lend to one another. SCS said this would mean it faced higher costs for providing interest-free loans.

Recruiter Page Group dipped 0.9 per cent, or 4.4p, to 491.4p.

Its chief executive, Steve Ingham, and finance chief Kelvin Stagg were given more than 518,000 shares between them on March 15 and 18, regulatory filings show.

They sold some to pay taxes, with Ingham keeping 185,822, worth nearly £913,000, and Stagg keeping 88,000, worth £433,000.

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