- FTSE 100 index closes 53 points ahead
- US indices head north
- AstraZeneca wanted after Farxiga candidate sails through didn't disease test
5.05pm: FTSE closes up
FTSE 100 closed in positive territory as the new trading week began after having been under pressure for most of the day.
The Footsie's firmer close came as US stocks went higher as some confidence returned to markets after the huge US government relief program and the central bank intervention last week.
Britain's blue-chip benchmark closed up over 53 points at 5,563, while mid-cap cousin FTSE 250 went the other way, plunging over 145 to 14,624.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones added 385 points at 22,022 and the S&P 500 gained over 55 points at 2,597.
Of course, the global pandemic crisis and its economic effect is the only story in town. The oil price tanked today with US benchmark cruse plunging 5.3% and Brent crude losing almost 7.8% to US$25.75 a barrel as oversupply worries persist, along with a strong US dollar.
"Stocks are well off the lows of this month, so sentiment has stopped falling through the floor, but with the health emergency still raging, the bulls might remain cautious," noted David Madden, analyst at CMC Markets.
In terms of Footsie laggards on the day, house builders were largely in the red, unsurprisingly, as many banks have pulled a lot of mortgage products as the government is not encouraging people to move to a new house during the virus outbreak.
3.45pm: The Footsie breaks even
Pending home sales in the US rose 2.4% in February; economists had expected a 1.8% decline.
Given the recent surge in US first-time jobless claims, it is a matter of debate how many of those pending home sales will actually go through.
US investors did not seem overly bothered with the Dow Jones industrial average trading 293 points (1.4%) higher at 21,930 and the S&P 500 up 47 points (1.8%) at 2,588.
In London, with sterling half a cent lower against the US dollar, the afternoon saw a few bargain hunters emerge, with the result that the FTSE 100 just about moved into positive territory – by one point at 5,511.
2.55pm: A day to catch one's breath (but not somebody else's)
The Dow Jones industrial average is little changed while the S&P 500 is up 14 points (0.6%) early doors.
“The first quarter of 2020 has been one of the worst quarters for global stock markets in the 150 history of the S&P 500. Whilst it is too early to say if the relentless efforts from central banks and governments to support the global economy would be enough to cushion economic recession and support stock markets, underperformance of stock markets rarely last for a long-time,” claimed Marija Veitmane, a multi-asset class research senior strategist at State Street Global Markets.
“The quarters that experience negative returns tend to be followed by positive ones; and the stronger the sell-off, the stronger the rebound in the next quarter. One potential explanation for the rebound in performance is portfolio adjustment, where investment managers buy underperforming assets to maintain target allocation. Looking at the size of the sell-off and balanced funds’ assets under management, rebalancing flow can be upwards of half a trillion dollars-worth of buying stocks,” Veitmane advised.
In the UK, a welcome absence of volatility on the Footsie has enabled investors to catch their breath a little.
London’s index of leading shares opened as if today was going to be another day to wear the tin hat, plunging to 5,352 but it has steadily mended the roof and is now down just 12 points (0.3%) at 5,498.
2.40pm: Carluccios and Bright House fall into administration
Restaurant chain Carluccios and hire purchase outfit Bright House have both filed for administration.
Around 4,000 jobs are thought to be at risk.
The FTSE 100 continued to hover just below Friday’s close, at 5,498, down 12 points (0.2%).
Away from the big caps, Alpha FX Group PLC (LON:AFX), the foreign exchange risk management and payments specialist, crashed 40% to 565p after it said one customer has been unable to answer a margin call on its positions with the company.
The company is negotiating a payment plan with the customer, who owes the company £30.2mln.
In happier news, Ironveld PLC (LON:IRON) shot up 44% to 0.57p after it unveiled plans to raise around £3.7mln. Inclusive Investment Group has agreed to lend the mine developer US$1mln and has also bought 440mln shares in the company at 0.42p a pop.
2.00pm: Resistance growing to bail-out of the airlines
US markets are expected to open on the front foot, which represents a change in sentiment from this morning when markets were expected to fall.
Spread betting quotes indicate the Dow Jones will open around 109 points heavier at 21,746 while the S&P 500 is expected to start 9 points higher at 2,560.
In London, the Footsie has clawed its way to within spitting distance of Friday’s close, at 5,492, down 18 points (0.3%).
Resource stocks are lending their support to the rally, including BP PLC (LON:BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSB), despite Brent crude for May delivery falling US$2.14 to US$22.79 a barrel on futures markets.
A slumping oil price might ordinarily put a floor under the share price of aerospace-related stocks in normal times but these are not normal times, with easyJet PLC (LON:EZJ), down 15% at 552.4p, grounding its entire fleet.
“If we don’t pay Airbus we don’t need government loans”- Easyjet’s biggest shareholder has turned on the board. Sir Stelios tells chairman to cancel £4.5bn Airbus order for 107 aircraft or he will seek to remove 1 non-exec director every 7 weeks “starting with Andreas Bierwirth” pic.twitter.com/g3PgoQAeic— Joel Hills (@ITVJoel) March 29, 2020
“Press reports suggest that the UK government is in talks to bail-out the airline industry and that direct equity stakes in IAG, EasyJet, Virgin and Ryanair are being contemplated. Similar plans are under consideration in other countries. There is a “triple whammy” of moral hazard here: first, preferential treatment for owners of large companies at the expense of tax-paying smaller businesses; second, capital markets have not yet failed in their ability to discern industry winners from losers; government intervention now potentially inhibits much needed future consolidation. Finally, none of these companies are now truly British,” observed Barry Norris, the founder of Argonaut Capital.
“Using British taxpayers’ money to prioritise the rescue of foreign shareholders would be questionable for any government; it is particularly difficult for one that prides itself on putting British interests first. Ryanair is Irish; EasyJet’s major shareholder is a Greek family now domiciled in Monaco; Virgin Atlantic is owned by a consortium of foreign airlines, with its nominal figurehead residing on his remote Caribbean island. Even the owner of British Airways is an Anglo-Iberian conglomerate with its biggest shareholder, an Arabian airline. A bad smell is coming from the cockpit of government,” Norris claimed.
1.20pm: Economic sentiment Indicator for March tells only half the story
The European Commission’s Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) for the UK declined to 92.0 in March, from 95.5 in February; a level of 100 represents the 1990-2019 average.
“The relatively small fall in the ESI in March almost certainly understates the damage to confidence caused by Covid-19,” suggested Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“On past form, a re-weighted version of the ESI, where the component’s weights refer to their shares of UK output, suggests GDP [gross domestic product] still is growing, at a 1.3% year-over-year rate. Meanwhile, the composite indicator of consumers' confidence dropped merely to -8 in March, from -6 in February, and simply matched its average level since 1985,2 he continued, before adding that the survey was conducted in the first half of March, before Covid-19 infections grew strongly and restrictions on everyday life were introduced.
“The 83.0 level of Italy’s ESI in March probably is a better guide to the state of sentiment in Britain right now; that would be the lowest level since mid-2009. Accordingly, we feel under no pressure to alter our forecast that GDP is on course for a 1.5% quarter-on-quarter drop in Q1, followed by a huge decline of about 13% in Q2,” Tombs added.
The FTSE 100 was down 40 points (0.7%) at 5,470.
11.45am: Footsie's losses slashed
Net consumer credit rose by £900mln in February, which was a shade below the consensus forecast of £1.1bn.
“Households’ finances were in relatively good shape on the eve of the Covid-19 crisis. Households’ broad money holdings rose at a 3.7% year-over-year rate in February, as income growth remained strong but spending lagged behind. Consumers were cautious and preferred to build up a precautionary buffer of cash, instead of splurging all their income,” observed Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
“Households also continued to borrow cautiously; net consumer credit grew at a 5.7% year-over-year rate in February, the slowest rate since June 2014. The economy is less vulnerable to a pullback in consumer credit than on the eve of prior recessions,” he declared.
Meanwhile, the FTSE 100’s fightback has stalled but at least it has not gone into reverse. The index was down 30 points (0.6%) at 5,480.
11.20am: House purchase mortgage approvals strong in February
House purchase mortgage approvals rose to 73,546 in February, from 71,344 in January, which was well above the consensus forecast of 68,500.
“The data provides further evidence that the housing market was benefiting markedly early on in 2020 from increased confidence and reduced uncertainties following December's election. This was also evident in survey evidence. The February RICS survey reported that ‘New buyer enquiries, agreed sales and fresh listings all reportedly increased over the survey period, extending a run of positive readings going back to December’,” reported Howard Archer, the chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.
“However, there were already signs in the surveys that coronavirus was starting to have some impact on housing market sentiment in February. The February RICS survey also observed that ‘although near term sales expectations remain positive, optimism has moderated somewhat, with anecdotal evidence suggesting concerns over the economic impact of the coronavirus are weighing on the outlook to some extent.’
“It is clear that housing market activity has been impacted from coronavirus during March, reflecting the mounting restrictions on people’s movements as well as the hit to confidence and economic activity. Hometrack reported on 26 March that demand for houses was down 40% over the past week and that ‘demand is set to fall further now the UK is moving into a 3+ week period of partial lockdown’,” he added.
UK Mortgage Approvals Feb: 73.5K (exp 68.5K; R prev 71.3K)— LSTrade (@LSTrade2) March 30, 2020
-Net Lending Sec On Dwellings Feb: 4.0B (exp 4.0B; prev 4.0B)
The FTSE 100 was down 63 points (1.1%) at 5,447.
10.10am: A market in which a 1.6% fall is regarded as stabilisation
In some circles, a 1.6% fall for the FTSE 100 is being greeted as a welcome “stabilisation”.
On the plus side, the Footsie is recovering from earlier losses at 5,422, down 89 points (1.6%), having bottomed out (for now) at 5,352.
“Investors need some sense of calm to help rebuild confidence about putting money, or keeping money, in the markets,” said Russ Mould, the investment director at AJ Bell.
“In the UK, the FTSE was dragged down by oil producers after the Brent Crude Oil price hit a 17-year low of $23.03 a barrel. The oil market is expected to be in surplus during the second quarter of the year as Saudi Arabia and Russia remain locked in a price war,” he added.
Jack Allardyce, an oil and gas analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald Europe, warned that oil could hit storage capacity within two months.
“With major producers pumping barrels freely and the IEA suggesting that short-term demand could fall by a fifth due to travel restrictions, global storage is likely to hit capacity over the next two-to-three months. This is likely to be particularly damaging for US crude, with prices in the Permian region potentially hitting single digits,” Allardyce said.
“While we believe that current levels are unsustainable in the medium term given achievable breakeven prices, the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19 and apparent stalemate between Riyadh and Moscow is likely to cause continued downward pressure over the coming weeks.
“While prices have not yet reached the relative falls seen during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the rate of the crash is unprecedented, and the pain looks far from over,“ he added.
In the meantime, pop out and fill up the tank even though there is nowhere to drive to. On second thoughts, don’t.
It has temporarily shuttered most of its “clean air” plants across the world except in China, where its operations are ramping up as the region starts to recover from coronavirus (COVID-19).
Mixed trading update from Johnson Matthey (big producer of catalysts and user of PGMs). Not all doom and gloom. Some signs of life in China at least. pic.twitter.com/xb6rGprLbb— Neil Hume (@humenm) March 30, 2020
9.10am: Pouring troubled waters on oil
Stock market bulls are back on the run as the oil price collapses and China resorted to some more easing of monetary policy.
The FTSE 100 was down 141 points (2.6%) at 5,369, with aerospace-related stocks Meggitt PLC (LON:MGGT), Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (LON:RR.) and Melrose Industries PLC (LON:MRS) – down by between 8% and 22% - leading the retreat.
Oil titans BP PLC (LON:BP.), down 2.5%, and Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSN), down 2.8%, are relatively sanguine about the collapse of the oil price below US$20 a barrel. Mid-cap players such as Premier Oil PLC (LON:PMO), off 8.2% at 16.16p and oilfield support services firm John Wood Group PLC (LON:WG.), 8.8% easier at 154.75p, are less sanguine.
“This week has kicked off with a new precedent. It isn’t the volatile performance of stocks, bonds, or currencies that are grabbing all the attention, but the moves in oil prices. US crude has tested levels below $20 for the first time in more than 17 years, with traders continuing to bet that the combination of widespread lockdowns across the globe and the breakdown of OPEC+ will continue to weigh on prices,” said Hussein Sayed, the chief market strategist at FXTM.
“It is widely believed that the oil surplus will reach 25 million barrels a day by April, a level that could even make it difficult to find storage for this excess supply. While it’s becoming unprofitable to higher-cost producers, many of them are still hoping others shut off production first. This game of attrition is likely to drag prices even lower and even a price of $10 per barrel is no longer unimaginable. At such a level, higher-cost producers will have no choice but to shut production; however, long-term demand is what will determine where prices will be by year-end, and that will depend widely on how deep the recession will be and the shape of the recovery afterwards,” Sayed said.
Brent crude below $30/barrel as worldwide demand slumps. First NA refinery shutdowns.— jn (@JeremyNgZL) March 30, 2020
8.45am: Weak start on Monday
The FTSE 100 index felt some of the backwash from what was a fairly tough start to the trading week in Asia.
The UK index of blue-chip stocks fell 68 points early on to 5,442.10.
As expected, Shell (LON:RDSA) and BP (LON:BP.) joined the retreat after oil prices weakened overnight, with the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price ducking below US$20 a barrel level. Oversupply worries prompted by the Saudi-Russia oil war sent the two UK super-majors tumbling 3% each.
Down 8.3% and top of the blue-chip losers’ list was Rolls Royce (LON:RR.) amid reports the aero-engine maker is facing a “cash crisis” with fleets of passenger planes now grounded as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Airlines have ‘power by the hour’ contracts with Rolls, paying for the number of flight hours on Rolls engines for their wide-body planes,” the Daily Telegraph noted on Monday. “Revenues have collapsed as demand for air travel plunges and borders close.”
The newspaper pointed out the group had recently drawn down £2.5bn of funding to boost its financial liquidity.
Melrose (LON:MLRO), owner of aerospace components group GKN, tumbled 6.8%.
In the financial sector, Standard Life Aberdeen (LON:SLA) was the latest to be hit by the fear of redemptions amid the volatility on world stock markets. Its shares were off 4.4%.
In a bloodbath for FTSE 250 stocks, Dixons Carphone (LON:DC.) tumbled 16% after a survey showed 20,000 retail outlets could be permanently shuttered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ending with a little good news: sausage maker Cranswick (LON:CWK) jumped 11.8% at the open, perhaps foreshadowing a boom in home cooking during the lockdown.
Proactive news headlines:
i3 Energy PLC (LON:i3E) shares jumped on Monday as it announced a new strategic acquisition, picking up producing assets in Canada at a discount, amid industry uncertainty triggered by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and following the collapse in crude oil prices. In a statement, the company said it has secured terms to acquire Toronto listed Toscana Energy Income Corporation which owns assets in Alberta and Saskatchewan, within the ‘Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin’ (WCSB).
Bidstack Group PLC (LON:BIDS) has said its in-game advertising technology is seeing “high levels of inbound demand” from ad agencies as the coronavirus pandemic leads to record numbers of video gamers. The AIM-listed said that it had also received “some exciting and unexpected commercial opportunities” as a result of the surge, highlighting that spending on video games in the US had soared 60% year-on-year in the week of 16 March.
Faron Pharmaceuticals Oy (LON:FARN) (NASDAQFIRSTNORTH:FARON) has been given the green light to broaden the scope of its phase I/II cancer trial after a review of the interim data. The MATINS study of the immunotherapy Clevegen will now take in eight further strains of the disease besides the two already assessed - colorectal and ovarian.
Integumen PLC (LON:SKIN) and its partner Modern Water Plc (LON:MWG) have begun production of the latter’s monitoring bacteria reagent six weeks ahead of schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. The two companies announced a three-year deal on March 18 for Integumen to manufacture and provide logistical support for Modern Water’s monitoring reagent consumables, which is expected to be worth a headline £3.12mln.
Ergomed PLC (LON:ERGO) has said it is to provide drug safety services to assess the effect of a rheumatoid arthritis treatment on patients with severe COVID-19 infection caused by coronavirus. The company is providing the services through its specialist pharmacovigilance provider, PrimeVigilance, as part of an ongoing clinical trial.
Union Jack Oil PLC (LON:UJO) has revealed the findings of a new assessment of the Biscathorpe project including an economic review which concludes that it is a financially robust project at current oil prices. The 55% owned project is estimated to have a break-even full-cycle economics at US$18.07 per barrel.
Chesnara PLC (LON:CSN), the life assurance group, has proposed a final dividend of 13.87p in respect of the 2019 fiscal year, up 3% year-on-year. The company said it remains well capitalised with a solvency ratio, as at 20 March, of around 164%. The corresponding value of surplus above its solvency capital requirement is estimated at around £193mln, while the estimated Chesnara parent company cash balance as at 20 March 2020 was £73.5mln.
Frontier IP Group PLC’s (LON:FIPP) portfolio firm Elute Intelligence, in which it holds a 43% stake, has launched a free online coronavirus document reader to support scientists researching the disease. The intellectual property (IP) investor said the reader, which uses Elute’s advanced software tools to search large and complex databases, will allow researchers to search for articles mentioning terms related to the outbreak.
ECR Minerals PLC (LON:ECR) has revealed the results of a testing programme at the Creswick gold project in Victoria that was designed to test for ferroan carbonates. Drill cuttings, or chips, from the 2019 drilling at Creswick were used for the tests. The results show ferroan dolomite in wallrock and as quartz-carbonate composite chips in five drill holes. Ferroan dolomite is characteristic of alteration around central Victorian gold deposits and indicative of gold-related hydrothermal fluid flow.
Tower Resources PLC (LON:TRP) has told investors that it is still possible to spud the NJOM-3 well before 15 September 2020 despite the current Force Majeure, caused by coronavirus (COVID-19), but added that this is “inherently uncertain”. In any event, the company said it remains committed to drilling NJOM-3 - a test of the Njoni project located inside the Thali PSC area - as quickly as possible.
Tissue Regenix Group PLC (LON:TRX) has said it continues to work on a funding deal, which it hopes to conclude in the “near future” and added that it was “encouraged by a number of ongoing discussions with potential investors”. However, it also cautioned that there could be no guarantee its efforts would be successful. The regenerative medicines specialist said its cash runway takes it to at least the end of the second week of May, having implemented control measures.
IronRidge Resources Ltd (LON:IRR) is winding down exploration activities early at its operations in West Africa in the wake of the coronavirus threat, the firm revealed as it posted a half-year financial report. "In light of developments regarding COVID-19 IronRidge has acted to adjust its activities and is winding down drilling and field programmes a few weeks earlier than originally planned before the upcoming wet season, to ensure the health and safety of all of its employees and contractors at this time,” IronRidge chief executive Vincent Mascolo said in the update.
ValiRx PLC (LON:VAL) has said it is reviewing its options to reconvene a meeting to vote on resolutions that could lead to a cash lifeline for the company. The cash-strapped firm is in discussions with several potential funders who have indicated conditional willingness to invest in the company if certain resolutions are passed but the meeting that was called for March 25 to vote on these resolutions was adjourned as a result of the coronavirus (COVD-19) situation.
OPG Power Ventures PLC (LON:OPG) said demand for power from the group has dropped following the closure of all commercial and industrial operations in India from March 25. Accordingly, OPG expects minimal load over the coming weeks.
Caledonia Mining Corporation PLC (LON:CMCL)(TSE:CAL) has said that the lockdown in South Africa declared by President Ramaphosa is likely to have knock-on effects for operations at the company’s Blanket gold mine across the border in Zimbabwe although is currently continuing to produce gold. The supply chain for the procurement of a significant portion of mining consumables and capital equipment comes from South Africa. A lock-down in Zimbabwe was declared on 27 March, but Blanket is continuing to operate as it has applied for an exemption because it can operate in a manner that contributes to the management of the spread of the coronavirus.
Pan African Resources plc (LON:PAF) has shut its gold mines in South Africa, following the requirement of a government decree that sets out to tackle the coronavirus crisis. As part of essential services, the company said it is conducting limited surface re-mining and processing activities at its Elikhulu tailings retreatment plant and at its Barberton tailings retreatment plant. These operations are currently operating at approximately 70% of normal capacity.
Rainbow Rare Earths Ltd (LON:RBW) has said in commentary accompanying results for the six months to 31 December that the coronavirus is thus far having a limited impact on its operations in Burundi, but that the situation is being monitored closely. During the six months in question, the company revised its development strategy significantly and is now planning a much larger operation based on a production rate of at least 20,000 tonnes of concentrate per year.
Brunner Investment Trust PLC (LON:BUT) said that, following the Prime Minister's announcement on 23 March 2020 of further restrictions and the continuing impact of COVID-19 its AGM cannot go ahead as planned with Trinity House closed and no access to the AGM venue. The group said its board has resolved to postpone the AGM and will send a new notice to shareholders of the revised time, date and venue.
Alliance Pharma PLC (LON:APH), the international healthcare group, said it will announce its preliminary results for the year ended 31 December 2019 on Tuesday 7 April 2020. A conference call for analysts will be held at 10.00am on the morning of 7 April 2020. A recorded webcast of the analyst conference call, including investor presentation slides, will be made available during the afternoon of 7 April 2020 at this link. The recorded webcast will also be made available at the investor section of Alliance's website.
AFC Energy PLC (LON:AFC), a leading provider of hydrogen power generation technologies, has announced that its Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 October 2019 and the Notice of AGM have been posted to shareholders and are available, together with the arrangements for the AGM, on the company's website https://www.afcenergy.com. The AGM will be held at 12.00pm on 23 April 2020 at AFC Energy's offices, Dunsfold Park, Cranleigh Surrey GU68TB.
6.30am: Subdued start predicted
The FTSE 100 looks set for a subdued start to the trading week, resisting the pull of Asia’s main markets, which were hit by recurrent coronavirus jitters.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 led the decline with a 3.5% tumble amid worries the economic impact of the outbreak could be far more damaging than currently predicted.
Fears the global recession could be longer and deeper than thought pushed US oil prices below US$20 a barrel for the first time in 18 years.
The decline has been exacerbated by the supply war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has flooded the market with cheap crude.
This will have a significant impact on the marginal American shale producers in areas such as Texas, while closer to home UK giants Shell (LON:RDSA) and BP (LON:BP.) are expected to come under pressure.
This week is looks set to be a quiet one in terms of scheduled market news with budget carrier Wizz Air (LON:WIZZ), engineer Smiths (LON:SMIN) and water firm Pennon (LON:PNN) among those updating the market.
Of course, it is the “unknown, unknowns” in the form of coronavirus (COVID-19) alerts and the profit warnings that will likely make the headlines on the financial pages.
There’s also a raft of data from both sides of the Atlantic in the form of monthly purchasing managers’ data here in the UK and US March non-farm payrolls later this week that will give an early guide to the health of the two major economies.
Significant events expected on Monday:
Around the markets:
- Pound down 0.6% at US$1.2384
- Gold worth US$1,642.10 an ounce, down US$12 an ounce
- Brent crude US$23.49 a barrel, down US$1.44
- Grounded airline staff asked to bolster NHS resources
- Big hedge funds raise money to capitalise on market chaos
- China’s effort to end coronavirus lockdown meets local opposition
- Britain faces six months of curbs
- Stop bank dividend payouts, Andrew Bailey told
- Intu’s plea for help runs into criticism
- Loan defaults on car PCPs threaten £110bn finance sector
- Small pharmacies facing closure as drug prices rise
- 'Bolder' global rescue needed amid fears recession will last until 2021
- Rolls-Royce faces cash crisis as coronavirus decimates global aviation
- The Centre for Retail Research said more than 20,000 shops could close this year
- Taxpayers to shoulder £8bn railway pensions black hole
- Coronavirus forecast to cut UK economic output by 15%
- Morrisons gives food banks £10m during coronavirus outbreak
- Philip Green urged not to use coronavirus as ‘excuse’ over pensions