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FTSE 100 edging higher again; US indices to open lower after retail sales slump

1
  • FTSE 100 index rises 54 points
  • US indices expected to open lower 
  • US retail sales in April were down 21.6% year-on-year.

2.15pm: US indices to open lower

US retail sales posted the largest monthly fall since records began in April, falling by 16.4% from March’s level.

Sales in April were down 21.6% year-on-year.

Shops selling clothes, electronics and furniture were the hardest hit, along with the restaurant sector, according to figures issued by the Commerce Department.

US indices on futures markets have retreated a bit further with the Dow Jones average set to open at around at 23,428 and the S&P 500 seen starting at around 2,827.

In London, the FTSE 100 was up 54 points (0.9%) at 5,795.

12.45pm: The end of Rico at Royal Mail

After yesterday’s storming fightback, US shares are expected to give back a chunk of yesterday’s gains today.

Spread betting quotes indicate that the Dow will open around 167 points lower at 23,459 while the S&P 500 is seen starting at around 2,834, 10 points below last night’s close.

In London, the FTSE 100’s end-of-morning slide has been halted and the index is now up 40 points (0.7%) at 5,782.

The market has reacted positively to the abrupt departure of the chief executive of Royal Mail PLC (LON:RMG), Rico Back.

“The coronavirus crisis has accelerated many existing trends, and unfortunately for Royal Mail one of those is the decline in addressed letters. That long, slow decline is no longer slow by anyone’s measure, and the volumes have probably been lost for good – companies and individuals that have discovered digital alternatives to increasingly expensive stamped envelopes will not go back,” said Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

The shares were up 8.2% at 175.7p after the parcels delivery outfit announced the recently appointed chairman Keith Williams would assume executive duties.

“The group’s saving grace is a pretty healthy balance sheet and significant levels of liquidity; however, we suspect Royal Mail is burning through cash at a fair rate of knots in the current climate and that places a time limit on how long Keith Williams has to turn the ship around. A background at British Airways may prepare the newly installed executive chair for the challenges of a highly unionised workforce, but coronavirus disruption is something quite different,” Hyett opined.

11.50am: Rally shows signs of flagging

Footsie’s bright start is beginning to flag as investors digest the latest gross domestic product (GDP) releases from the European Union.

The FTSE 100 was up 42 points (0.7%) at 5,783.

Real GDP in the Eurozone slumped by 3.8% quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) in the first quarter of 2020, after rising 0.1% in the final quarter of 2019.

The outcome was in line with the consensus forecast and the initial “flash” estimate.

The year-on-year rate change was -3.2%, versus +1.0% in the preceding quarter.

“The first quarter QoQ contraction of 3.8% is the sharpest on record; however, Germany only contracted by 2.2% and considering that France and Italy contracted by almost twice that much, we should expect to see some friction to arise when it comes to future contributions to any EU recovery structures,” suggested Artur Baluszynski, the head of research at Henderson Rowe, the wealth management firm.

The second quarter for Germany will be “much worse”, according to Deutsche Bank.

“We expect Q2 GDP to slump by 14% (qoq). Annual GDP is likely to contract by 9% in 2020 due to COVID-19,” the bank said.

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10.30am: Traders take a punt on William Hill

It looks like the Footsie has finally found a forward gear on the last day of the week.

London’s index of leading shares was up 84 points (1.5%) at 5,825.

“European indices are on the rise this morning, with markets finally finding a bid after a period of steep losses. With critical support levels coming into play over the course of the week, the lack of a wider bearish breakdown highlights the fact that we still remain devoid of a strong enough driver of market sentiment to spark the next big break,” said Joshua Mahony at IG.

“Fears over the potential health implications of an easing of lockdown restrictions are based on a small number of cases, and thus it could take a widespread surge in COVID-19 cases to highlight the long-term economic implications of this crisis.

“Overnight data from China highlights the potential pathway for European nations, with the Asian powerhouse continuing to see dour data despite the headway made against the virus. Unfortunately, the ability to bring down Covid-19 deaths does not necessarily bring a sharp economic bounceback. One area of optimism came from the Chinese industrial production figure, which rose back into positive territory to signal a potential pick-up in business activity; however, with global demand on the wane, there will continue to be questions over Chinese growth as a result of the worldwide lockdown,” Mahony suggested.

Bookmaker William Hill PLC (LON:WMH), now no longer even a FTSE 250 constituent, was getting some love this morning after its trading statement included news of a waiver on the covenants attached to its revolving credit facility.

The shares rose 9.3% to 116.65p after the company said it was ready to spring into action once sporting events that punters can bet on start occurring again.

“We now know that William Hill has significant liquidity, which should put it in good stead to ride out coronavirus – total liquidity is above £700mln and monthly cash costs have been reduced to around £15mln. The group’s borrowing restrictions have been relaxed too, waived this year and loosened next year. That provides important breathing room, but restrictions do come back into play next year, so it’s important business starts flowing again,” said Emilie Stevens, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“And things are looking better on that front. The German Bundesliga is expected to start behind closed doors in May and horseracing is now live in France and expected to start in the UK in June. Football and horse racing are responsible for most of the group’s online sports book and while increased gaming revenues have plugged some of the gap, they’ve been missed. William Hill ‘s planning for retail shops to open in some way in the second half of the year too but this is, of course, dependant on the UK keeping ‘R’ down and lockdown restrictions easing,” she added.

9.10am: Market ignoresTrump’s sabre-rattling

Sabre-rattling in China’s direction by President Trump has been shrugged off by investors as just electioneering, as equities trend firmer.

The FTSE 100 was up 72 points (1.2%) at 5,813, led by telecoms giant BT Group PLC (LON:BT.A), which was up 6.9% at 109.15p on reports it is planning to sell off a chunk of its Openreach business.

Cruises operator Carnival PLC (LON:CCL) found itself in the unaccustomed spot of being in the top three risers on the Footsie leader-board after it announced yesterday “a combination of layoffs, furloughs, reduced work weeks and salary reductions across the company.”

The shares were up 6.2% at 882.2p. The company said booking trends for the first half of 2021 remain within historical ranges.

Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust (LON:SMT) is probably even less accustomed to being at the top of the Footsie leader-board – and to avoid any confusion, it has not made the podium today either but it was up 2.7% at 693p after publishing its full-year results that showed a 13.7% year-on-year increased in the bet asset value.

8.45am: Upbeat start to end the week

The FTSE 100 took its cue from Wall Street and Asia’s main markets to open in positive territory on Friday.

The UK’s index of blue-chip shares started 71 points higher at 5,811.63, having dropped 162 points on Thursday.

While traders weren’t unduly perturbed by a slew of seemingly dire economic data from China, sentiment could turn on the latest GDP figure from the Eurozone later and US retail sales numbers this afternoon.

“The economic pictures is now the biggest driver for many assets as the weaker data points to just how deep the economic hole will be,” said James Hughes of Scope Markets.

The day’s big riser was BT Group (LON:BT.A) amid reports it is planning to sell a stake in its Openreach infrastructure business to fund the £12bn roll-out of fibre broadband. The shares advanced almost 10% early on.

It was a bounce-back day for the travel-related stocks, led by Carnival (LON:CCL), with the cruise lines group sailing 6.8% higher.

Not far behind were Intercontinental Hotels (LON:IHG) and easyJet (LON:EZJ), which were each up 3.6%.

William Hill (LON:WMH) gained 7% after an update on current trading that was not quite as bad as feared.

Proactive news headlines:

Sunrise Resources PLC (LON:SRES) has told investors that key documents in its permitting process for the CS Project, in Nevada, are now available for public comment. The company noted that the move marks the culmination of over 2 years of solid work involving the preparation of a detailed Mine Plan, extensive baseline field and desk environmental studies. “We are delighted to have reached this final stage in the permitting process and, whilst there have been a number of delays to the process, the end result is a robust environmental assessment,” Patrick Cheetham, Sunrise executive chairman said in a statement.

Zoetic International PLC (LON:ZOE) saw its shares jump on Friday as it predicted that distribution agreements agreed and that it is close to signing will lead to a “substantial increase” in sales of its Chill brand of cannabidiol (CBD) products in the US market. In a trading update, the CBD firm said the Chill brand’s focus on the tobacco replacement market is expected to be “especially attractive” as health concerns were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, adding that it has also commenced negotiations for distribution of Chill products to two overseas markets. Zoetic also said it hopes to conclude “further significant distribution contracts” in the first quarter of its current financial year.

Asiamet Resources Ltd (LON:ARS) told investors it has landed a key approval for the BKM copper project in Indonesia, with the Governor of Central Kalimantan recommending the project to proceed into construction and development. It is part of a process for the project to secure a forestry borrow-to-use (Pinjam Pakai) permit from the Government of Indonesia. “Having recently secured the forestry permit for exploration, Asiamet is very pleased to have now received the Governor’s recommendation for the Pinjam Pakai permitting process,” Asiamet executive chairman Tony Manini said in a statement.

discoverIE Group PLC (LON:DSCV) has said its business model is “resilient and flexible” and added that it had been encouraged by the continued “demand for its products” during the coronavirus (COVID-29) pandemic. In a trading update, the electronics designer and distributor said its sales increased by 8% year-on-year at constant currencies in the 12 months ended March 31, 2020, meaning earnings will be slightly ahead of the company’s revised expectations following a strong recovery in China. The order book, meanwhile, was up 7% at a record £159mln, though sales to date for the first quarter are currently 10% lower on an organic basis compared with last year. This is partly the result of brief shutdowns of facilities in Sri Lanka, India and the US.

Ormonde Mining plc (LON:ORM) has told investors its management continues to review new project opportunities, whilst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has restricted the firm’s Spanish mine activities to the desktop. More than 80 projects have so far been looked at by the company since it agreed the divestment of its stake in the Barruecopardo tungsten mine project, it noted. “A small number of these opportunities remain promising, being of an appropriate scale whereby the company’s cash would aid meaningful development, and which the directors believe could have the potential to add materially to shareholder value,” Ormonde said in a business update.

Keywords Studios PLC (LON:KWS) has raised £100mln via a share placing to leverage what it said was a “unique opportunity” to continue its acquisition strategy. The video game services firm said it had raised the funds through the issue of 6.9mln new shares at a price of 1,450p each, a 5.8% discount to its closing price on Thursday. Announcing its placing plans after Thursday’s close, Keywords said while the coronavirus pandemic had increased the amount of video game playing, driving continued demand for content and for its own services, it was expecting to see “some stress in predominantly smaller service providers, which are typically single location and service with fewer clients and less able to weather the disruption”. The firm also provided a brief update on its current trading, reporting that despite greater pandemic disruption in the second half of March, revenues in March and April were 7% above the same two months of 2019 while the group had also gradually increased the operational capacity of its testing service into May.

Ergomed PLC (LON:ERGO) has announced that it’s annual general meeting (AGM) will be held at the company’s registered offices at 1 Occam Court, Surrey Research Park, Guildford, GU2 7HJ at 9.30am on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. In light of the UK government’s current coronavirus (COVID-19) measures, the AGM will be run as a closed meeting and shareholders will not be able to attend in person, with the Form of Proxy for voting to be available on the company’s website at www.ergomedplc.com. In conjunction with the AGM, Ergomed also announced that non-executive director Dr Jim Esinhart will not be standing for re-election and will step down from the board with immediate effect. It also said that non-executive director Rolf Soderstrom, has assumed the additional role of senior independent director.

6.30 am: London set for a brighter day

UK stocks are set to bounce back today, taking their cue from US markets, which finished higher yesterday after a soft start as worries over a second ware of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections eased.

A slew of economic data from China is not expected to spoil the party with spread betting quotes indicating the Footsie will open its account at around 5,796, up 54 points, clawing back a third of yesterday’s losses.

“Overnight, China announced several economic reports. The fixed asset investment reading for April was -10.3%, while the consensus estimate was -10%, and keep in mind the March update was -16%,” reported CMC’s David Madden.

“Industrial production was 3.9% and economists were anticipating 1.5%, while the previous reading was -1.1%. Retail sales came in at -7.5%, and the forecast was -7%. The retail sales report for March was -15.8%. Traders responded well to the improving data from China, which is why stocks in Asia are a little higher. The European markets are on track to recoup some of yesterday’s losses,” he added.

Iris Pang, the chief economist covering Greater China at ING, said “this set of data shows only small and gradual improvements in economic activity, which could upset markets as China is seen as the “first-out” economy from COVID-19.”

“Moreover, COVID-19 could be spreading in clusters around the world now that the first round of infection has not been conclusively eradicated.

“In general, these imply unemployment levels in major countries remaining very high, and demand from these economies should, therefore, be weaker than during previous crises,” Pang suggested.

Asian markets have taken the data in their stride. Picking up the baton from US markets – the Dow Jones Industrials Average rose 377 points to close at 23,625 and the S&P 500 put on 33 points at 2,853 – the Nikkei 225 in Japan was 111 points firmer at 20,025 while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng was up 96 points at 23,925.

On the home front, investors will have some mid-cap news to chew over in the form of an update from gambling giant William Hill PLC (LON:WMH).

With almost all professional sport still on hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, investors are likely to focus on any results from the company’s cost-saving measures, as well as any updates on its US operations as America begins to slowly reopen its economy.

Economists will be looking forward to the release of US retail sales data, with April’s outcome likely to be at least 10% lower than April 2019’s.

Significant announcements expected on Friday:

Trading announcements: William Hill PLC (LON:WMH), Signature Aviation PLC (LON:SIG)

Economic data: US retail sales

Around the markets

  • Sterling: US$1.2216, down 0.15 cents
  • 10-year gilt: yielding 0.207%, down 0.1 basis points
  • Gold: US$1,740.80 an ounce, down 10 cents
  • Oil: US$31.76 a barrel, up 63 cents
  • Bitcoin: US$9,421, down US$234

City headlines:

  • Financial Times

  • Telecoms giant BT is in discussions about selling a stake in its Openreach division to infrastructure investors, including Macquarie.
  • Nissan is mulling switching production of two Renault models from Spain to its Sunderland plant.
  • Pexip, which has developed video conferencing software, soared more than 40% on its debut on the Oslo stock exchange.
  • Private equity group 3i said the coronavirus crisis has hit returns but it will keep on paying a dividend.
  • The Daily Telegraph

  • Rishi Sunak’s efforts to rescue the economy will punch a record £300 billion black hole in Britain’s public finances, the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned.
  • Another three million Americans filed for jobless benefits over the last week but economists predicted unemployment could soon peak.
  • The Times

  • More than 47,000 British Airways passengers are still awaiting refunds for flights cancelled because of the coronavirus.
  • Almost half of all businesses do not have enough cash reserves to last them more than six months, according to the Office for National Statistics.
  • Just Group, the provider of annuities and lifetime mortgages, saw £400 million wiped from the value of its bond portfolio in the four months to April.
  • Hargreaves Lansdown has lost more than £12 billion in the value of its assets due to the turmoil that has shaken financial markets.
  • TI Fluid Systems has been barred from distributing the 5.2p-a-share payout after Bain Capital, the US private equity firm, voted against the plan at the company’s annual meeting.
  • BT is to start buying equipment from Adtran, an American group, to comply with a government order to use less of Huawei’s technology.
  • A corporate governance review of Sensyne Health has found weaknesses but no big breaches in its processes, according to the biotechnology company.
  • Indivior has increased its provision related to an investigation by the US Department of Justice into its bestselling opioid addiction treatment.
  • The Guardian

  • Ei Group, the UK’s largest pubs group, has agreed to help tenants pay rents following widespread criticism.
  • WH Smith is hoping for a revival in trade at its airport and railway station shops from this autumn.
  • Lloyd’s of London expects to pay out between $3 billion and $4.3 billion to its customers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The government has said London transport fares will have to rise, as it reached an agreement over a £1.6 billion bailout with Transport for London.
  • Marks & Spencer has launched a huge half-price clothing sale as the high street shutdown leaves retailers with mountains of unsold spring and summer fashion.
  • Cruise ship company Carnival has announced a wide-ranging programme of job losses and pay cuts.
  • The World Trade Organization’s chief Roberto Azevêdo has announced he is quitting more than a year before the end of his term.
  • Daily Mail

  • Novacyt’s subsidiary, Primerdesign, which produces coronavirus testing kits, expects ‘significant demand’ to continue for the rest of the year and potentially into 2021.
  • Prudential’s shares plunged 7% yesterday after the Asia-focused insurance giant’s sales took a hit amid global lockdowns in the last few months.
  • McLaren is considering mortgaging its factory and historic racing car collection to help it survive the coronavirus crisis.
  • Veteran fund manager Giles Hargreave will relinquish his duties as co-manager of Marlborough Fund Managers’ UK small-cap range from January next year.

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