Bosses at Trainline were intent on accentuating the positive when the rail and coach ticketing platform revealed its half-year figures at the beginning of November.
Under the circumstances, it may seem churlish to question whether its ability to scale back operations as passenger numbers slump will be enough to ward off the worst effects of the pandemic. But the company is uniquely exposed, not only to the immediate impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns, but also to a potential decline in commuter journeys over the long haul.
Towards the end of October, it was announced that Clare Gilmartin, who has been at the helm of the business for seven years, intends to step down from the board next February. Ms Gilmartin successfully took the company public midway through 2019, but she could not have imagined how events would pan out within six months of the initial public offering. In the lead-up to her resignation, she offloaded shares in the company to the value of £3.2m, which should provide a degree of solace.
Another insider has just followed suit. Chief financial officer Shaun McCabe has sold 600,000 shares in the FTSE 250 constituent, at an average price of 480p a share, giving a total value of £2.88m. The news came a fortnight after it was revealed that Mr McCabe had been appointed as a non-executive director of embattled fast-fashion retailer Boohoo — he clearly does not mind a challenge.
With Trainline that amounts to new lockdown measures and expansion of the tier systems. We cannot be sure whether the rollout of vaccination programmes through the early part of 2021 will result in a significant increase in commuter numbers, so we remain downcast on immediate prospects despite the recent share price rally.
Precious metals miners have had a charmed run in 2020 for the most part. While there were some shutdowns, most producers saw earnings skyrocket as gold cracked $2,000 (£1,488) an ounce and silver stayed comfortably above $20/oz.
Hochschild Mining was not so lucky as the Peruvian government brought in tougher restrictions than most other mining countries. Hochschild’s largest mine — Inmaculada — was closed twice this year, in April and July, to stop Covid-19 outbreaks from worsening.
Its production will probably be down 40 per cent from 2019, putting unit costs under pressure. The higher precious metals prices have insulated the company from a collapse in earnings, however, and the board has brought back the half-year dividend, which will be paid on December 31.
In one of the largest deals of the year, Eduardo Hochschild has offloaded over £120m in shares, although the miner said this does not amount to the company chairman bailing out. The 200p a share sale, equal to 12 per cent of the company’s shares on issue, was undertaken because “Mr Hochschild believes now is an appropriate moment to recycle some capital from his holding in the company to facilitate investments elsewhere across his existing businesses and in new opportunities”. The chairman now holds 38 per cent of the miner. His grandfather founded Hochschild over a century ago, and the company listed in London in 2006.
The strike price was 15 per cent below the closing price on the day prior to the deal, and the company fell to 198p on the next day of trading. Fellow Americas-focused precious metals miner Fresnillo has been one of London’s best performers this year, climbing 76 per cent to 1,136p. Hochschild’s share price is up 12 per cent from the opening 2020 price of 176p — so perhaps it was an opportune moment for the chairman.
The march of the precious metals prices slowed in the past two months. Gold dipped below $1,800/oz and silver came back from almost $30/oz. The continued equity boom, at least in the US, and the upcoming distribution of Covid-19 vaccines could see investors moving away from precious metals. This could be Mr Hochschild’s approach — although Fresnillo investors would be in a far better place to take profits.