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FTSE 100 closes modestly higher on quiet Monday

At the close, the UK blue-chip index had gained 24.12 points at 7,433.25, almost mid-way between the peak of 7,449.95 and low of 7,409.13

Lloyds Banking Group -
Wall Street closed for US President’s Day holiday
  • FTSE 100 adds 24 points
  • China stimulus hopes outweigh Japan slowdown
  • Lack of Wall Street lead

5pm: Solid Monday gains

The FTSE 100 index ended higher on Monday as hopes for economic stimulus measures in China countered ongoing worries over the impact of the coronavirus worldwide, a slowdown in growth in Japan, and the absence of any lead from Wall Street, which was closed for the US President’s Day holiday.

At the close, the UK blue-chip index had gained 24.12 points at 7,433.25, almost mid-way between the session peak of 7,449.95 and the day’s low of 7,409.13.

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex commented: “As tends to be the case when the US is out of action, Europe puttered through a session largely free of incident.

“Ignoring the fact the Japanese economy contracted by 1.6% in the fourth quarter – that’s BEFORE feeling the effects of any coronavirus impact – the markets pushed gently forward.”

Looking at currency markets, he added: “As for the pound, ahead of a busy week for UK data – more on that in a moment – it fell 0.2% against the dollar and 0.1% against the euro.

"The currency is in for a bit of a work out across the next few sessions. Tuesday is expected to see a slight drop in UK wage growth, from 3.2% to 3.1% including bonuses, but with a sharp increase in inflation from 1.3% to 1.7% on Wednesday. Thursday is then forecast to see a big retail sales swing from -0.6% to 0.7%, though those estimates tend to be off base. And all of this before the FTSE-interesting flash PMIs on Friday.”

2.55pm: Catatonia continues

Without a lead from US markets, which are closed today for Presidents’ Day, UK blue-chips have gone into a vegetative state.

The FTSE 100 was up 17 points at 7,426, all of four points lower than it was an hour earlier.

“Equity markets are moderately higher this afternoon as the largely positive move in Asia overnight lifted sentiment in Europe. Stock markets in China surged on the back of the chatter the Chinese authorities will step in and give assistance to the economy. The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) cut the interest rate on one-year loans in a bid to support credit markets, which should help commerce in the country,” said David Madden at CMC Markets.

“Sadly the health crisis is deepening in China but traders are reacting to the intervention by the Beijing administration,” he added.

A flurry of resignations from the board of NMC Health PLC (LON:NMC) has shored up the share price a bit of the Middle East hospitals operator.

Company founder B R Shetty, currently under a cloud for not accurately reporting his shareholding in the company and two other doctors have resigned from the NMC board with immediate effect.

The shares were up 1.1% at 783.8p.

12.45pm: Subdued activity

A subdued morning has turned into a subdued afternoon with the bulls drawing some comfort from the Chinese authorities' pledge to ginger-up the economy.

The FTSE 100 was up 22 points (0.3%) at 7,431 but it has been stuck on or around that level for a few hours now.

A bit more excitement is to be found among the small caps, where Petra Diamonds Limited (LON:PDL) is prominent among the losers, down 16%, after its interims failed to sparkle.

Elsewhere in the mining sector, Sylvania Platinum Limited (LON:SLP) is having a better time of it, advancing 8.8% to 53.3p after it announced Johannes Jacobus as managing director and chief executive officer of the company in succession to Terry McConnachie, who is retiring at the end of the month.

In the drugs sector, Advanced Oncotherapy PLC (LON:AVO) saw its shares jump higher as the developer of next-generation proton therapy systems for cancer treatment announced a deal with the Mediterranean Hospital of Limassol in Cyprus.

The shares were up 8.3%.

11.30am: Investors continue to pile into Novacyt

After getting off to a decent start the FTSE 100 has flat-lined since about 9.00am on a day when US and Canadian markets are closed.

The Footsie was up 16 points (0.2%) at 7,425.

Packaging giant DS Smith plc (LON:SMDS) was among the fallers, shedding 5.7p at 360.2p after its chief financial officer, Adrian Marsh, jumped ship to join William Hill PLC (LON:WMH).

Away from the large caps, investors continued to chase up the share price of Novacyt SA (LON:NCYT), the medical diagnostics specialist.

On Friday, the company said it expects to launch a CE-Mark approved COVID-19 virus test this week.

The shares were up 26% this morning at 124.5p; a month ago, when few us had heard of the virus, you could have bought the shares for 15.5p.

9.30am: Early gains consolidated; housebuilders wanted after house price bounce

The Footsie made an early dart to 7,450 before backing off, although the index remains higher on the day, largely thanks to miners.

London's index of leading shares was up 20 points (0.3%) at 7,429, 21 points below its high point for the day.

“It seemed Europe chose to follow in the footsteps of the Shanghai Composite rather than the rest of the Asian markets, shaking off the news that Japan’s economy contracted by an eye-watering 1.6% in the fourth quarter,” reported Connor Campbell at Spreadex.

“The suggestion that the Bank of Japan is ready to step in if the coronavirus ‘significantly affects’ the country’s economy appeared to mitigate the blow of that GDP reading, capping the Nikkei’s losses at 0.7%.

“Ditto the hopes that Beijing is willing to pump in more stimulus to try and bubble-wrap China from the full impact of the outbreak – which now stands at 70,548 cases and 1,770 deaths on the mainland,” he added.

Stocks deemed to benefit most from any Beijing stimulus – miners plus the Russian steel-maker Evraz PLC (LON:EVR) – were to the fore, but housebuilder Persimmon PLC (LON:PSN), up 1.1%, was rubbing shoulders with them after the release of the latest Rightmove survey on UK house prices.

The property listings website operator said that the average asking price of a property being put on the market increased by 0.8% in January.

“The average price of newly-marketed property is just £40 below its all-time high from June 2018, with the typically busy spring market still to come,” noted Rightmove's Miles Shipside.

“This means that spring buyers are likely to be faced with the highest average asking prices ever seen in Britain,” he added.

8.25am: Footsie find gains

The FTSE 100 opened in positive territory with traders prioritising hopes for China’s fiscal stimulus programme ahead of the potential economic problems emanating from the spread of the coronavirus.

A further 105 fatalities were added to the list by the Beijing authorities, taking the number dead so far to 1,770.

The index of UK blue-chips opened 19 points to the good at 7,428.41 

Asian markets were mixed, however, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index down around 1.5% at one point after data showed the country's economy contracted at the fastest pace since Shinzo Abe became prime minister in 2012.

But it is expected to be a quiet opening to the week overall with US markets today closed for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

On the London market, miners were well bid early on following resource-hungry China’s decision to lend support to the economy. BHP Billiton (LON:BHP) led the pack, rising 1.5% ahead of its latest results, due on Tuesday.

The top faller was aero-engineer Meggitt (LON:MGGT), which fell 3.3% after Citigroup cut its recommendation to ‘neutral’ from ‘buy’.

Similarly, components firm IMI (LON:IMI) was on the end of a little broker negativity after Credit Suisse cut its call on the stock to ‘underperform’. The shares fell 3.5%.

Tullow Oil (LON:TLW) was also in the doghouse - off 5.7% - after drilling a dud well off the coast of Peru.

Finally, fund manager Jupiter (LON:JUP) led the second-liners with a 4.6% gain after the market applauded its buy and build strategy, which will kick off with the £370mln acquisition of Merion Global Investors.

Proactive news headlines:

Advanced Oncotherapy PLC (LON:AVO) saw its shares jump higher on Monday as the developer of next-generation proton therapy systems for cancer treatment announced a deal with the Mediterranean Hospital of Limassol in Cyprus. In a statement, the AIM-listed firm said the hospital has agreed to purchase a LIGHT system for €50mln.

ReNeuron Group PLC (LON:RENE), a global leader in the development of cell-based therapeutics, has announced the publication in a peer-reviewed journal of positive clinical data from the PISCES II Phase 2a clinical trial of its CTX stem cell therapy candidate for disability resulting from stroke. In a statement, the AIM-listed firm said data from the study were originally presented by Professor Keith Muir at the American Heart Association International Stroke Conference 2018 in January 2018, having been announced by the company in October 2017.

Ormonde Mining plc (LON:ORM) has completed the disposal of its 30% interest in the Barruecopardo tungsten mine and has received the €6mln in cash due as consideration. Following the transaction, Michael Donoghue and John Carroll have retired from the board and the company. Jonathan Henry, previously a non-executive director, is appointed executive chairman, while Tim Livesy and Richard Brown are appointed non-executive directors.

OptiBiotix Health PLC (LON:OPTI) has signed a distributor agreement with Advanced NutriSolutions Inc./Select Ingredient covering the United States and Canada. Under the terms of the agreement, Advanced NutriSolutions Inc./Select Ingredient will supply OptiBiotix's cholesterol and blood pressure-reducing probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum LPLDL, under an exclusive licence, to customers in the United States and Canada for inclusion into dietary supplements formulation.

Amur Minerals Corporation (LON:AMC) has revealed the results of metallurgical tests conducted on the Kun-Manie nickel sulphide project by consultant Gipronickel with a view to establishing the feasibility of generating a saleable copper concentrate. Kun-Manie is located in the Amur Oblast in the far east of Russia.

ANGLE PLC (LON:AGL) said an independent study of its Parsortix system has demonstrated key advantages of the company's flagship liquid biopsy technology. The University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf has published results of work undertaken to assess the analytical and clinical performance of Parsortix in multiple metastatic (i.e. spreading) cancer types with the main emphasis on metastatic breast cancer.

Redx Pharma PLC (LON:REDX) has extended discussions over a possible takeover offer to 28 February from 14 February. In an announcement on Friday afternoon, the drug developer said the ‘put up or shut up’ deadline for a bid by a consortium of investors has been extended for the parties to conclude ongoing discussions.

ImmuPharma PLC’s (LON:IMM) portfolio firm, oncology specialist Incanthera has announced its intention to list on the NEX exchange in London before the end of February. The company, which owns a 14% stake in Incanthera, will see its stake lowered to 11.9% following admission when the company lists, which is expected around 28 February.

Kavango Resources PLC (LON:KAV) has signed a joint venture agreement in respect of two prospecting licences situated in the Botswana section of the Kalahari copper belt. The first lies 30 kilometres north of MOD Resources' T3 mine development and is completely surrounded by MOD, Metal Tiger, and Sandfire licences. The second is close to the Namibian border, south of the Trans-Kalahari Highway and adjacent to a block of licences held by Kopore Metals Ltd.

Frontier IP Group PLC’s (LON:FIPP) portfolio firm, Cambridge Raman Imaging Limited (CRIL), has been awarded €140,000 (£116,380) in EU funding to accelerate development of its graphene-enabled scanning microscope. CRIL, which was spun out from the University of Cambridge and Italian university Politecnico di Milano in 2018, is developing a microscope which uses graphene to modulate ultra-short pulses of light to diagnose and track cancer tumours.

Bacanora Lithium PLC (LON:BCN) has reached agreement with the administrators of Solarworld AG to amend a joint venture agreement which relates to the Zinnwald lithium project in southeast Germany. Bacanora acquired an initial 50% interest in the project in February 2017, as well as an option to acquire the outstanding 50% that it does not own, whilst Solarworld had the right, but not obligation, to buy back Bacanora's shareholding for €1. Bacanora and Solarworld have now agreed to cancel this arrangement. As a result Bacanora will now own 50% of the project and Solarworld, which is currently in administration, will hold the other 50%.

Quadrise Fuels International PLC (LON:QFI) has updated on its business activities ahead of the publication of its interim results at the end of March. The specialist fuel firm said following its annual general meeting in November, it had made progress in a number of areas to “increase the breadth and depth of its business development programme”.

Benchmark Holdings PLC (LON:BMK) said it has conditionally raised total gross proceeds of £6.6mln through the Open Offer announced on 30 January 2020, representing the full amount proposed. Accordingly, the company has conditionally raised total gross proceeds of £43.0mln by way of the placing, which was also announced on 30 January, and the Open Offer, both of which were priced at 40p per ordinary share. Peter George, Benchmark’s executive chairman commented: "The proceeds of the Open Offer and Placing will in part be used to scale up CleanTreat as we prepare to launch BMK08, our novel medicinal treatment to combat sea lice, one of the main biological challenges in salmon farming. We are excited about the opportunity we now have to deliver Benchmark's enormous potential."

Avation PLC (LON:AVAP) said it has joined the Aviation Working Group (AWG), a not-for-profit legal entity comprised of major aviation manufacturers, leasing companies and financial institutions that contribute to the development of policies, laws and regulations that facilitate advanced international aviation financing and leasing. The company’s executive chairman, Jeff Chatfield commented: "The Aviation Working Group manages important projects and ongoing initiatives including the Global Aircraft Trading System (GATS), a system designed to modernise aircraft equipment trading and financing. AWG has also established a working group to assess, provide information, and potentially take action on Environmental Social and Governance in the context of aviation financing and leasing. These initiatives are relevant to Avation's business and operations."

6.15am: Positive start predicted 

The FTSE 100 looked set to make a positive start to the new week – though the picture from Asia was mixed.

China’s main markets were buoyed by news the authorities are to step in to provide fiscal support to the world’s second-largest economy.

"Traders are mindful the Chinese authorities intervened in the financial markets at the beginning of the month when the domestic stock markets reopened after the Lunar New Year celebrations," said David Madden of CMC Markets.

"Some dealers hold the view that Beijing will intervene in the markets again should the situation get much worse, which could explain the resilience of equity markets," he added.

The Nikkei 225, by contrast, was rattled after Japan reported the worst slide in GDP since Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister eight years ago.

While traders tried to push worries about the coronavirus to the back of their minds, the problem, while not escalating dramatically, remained a significant drag on sentiment and potentially world economic growth. Earlier, China announced the death toll had jumped by 105, taking the total number of fatalities to 1,770.

Returning to the UK, the week appears to be a busy one for scheduled blue-chip news with updates from banks Lloyds (LON:LLOY), HSBC (LON:HSBA), publisher Pearson (LON:PSON) and a host of miners.

Around the markets:

Pound worth US$1.3048, flat

Gold US$1,585.80, down 60 cents an ounce

Brent crude US$57.33, up 1 cent a barrel

Significant news expected on Monday:

US markets closed for President’s Day

Interims: Petra Diamonds Ltd (LON:PDL)

City Headlines: 

Financial Times

  • SoftBank investment chief pushes for hedge fund vehicle
  • France warns of bitter UK-EU negotiations
  • Hedge fund Lansdowne hit by failed bet on UK recovery
  • Retailers say Brexit friction will hit food supplies

Times

  • Shell agrees China deal to bolster green power
  • Officials at British ports lack enough resources to handle an escalation in the coronavirus crisis
  • Merian takeover by Jupiter puts managers in the money
  • Dividend bonanza set for repeat during 2020

Telegraph

  • Pressure is on the new Chancellor to halt tax changes that would hit self-employed workers
  • UAE foreign minister wants quick free trade deal with UK
  • Loss-making M6 takes its toll on owner IFM, but it’s here to stay – for now

Guardian

  • Companies paid record $1.43tn in dividends in 2019
  • JD Wetherspoon to serve only Fairtrade sugar in pubs

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