- FTSE 100 index up 74 points
- IHG the worst-performing Footsie constituent after hotel bookings slump
- US markets down at midday
5.00pm: Footsie ends the week on a high note
The FTSE 100 finished the Friday session 74 points ahead, up 1.3%, at 5,860.3, and the FTSE 250 improved 215 points, 1.2%, to 18,109.6.
"The major European equity markets are showing strong gains," CMC Markets UK analyst David Madden wrote Friday. "Sentiment has been lifted by last night’s news that Remdesivir, an antiviral drug produced by Gilead Sciences, received approval as a treatment by the US regulator, the FDA."
He continued, "In London, oil, banking, travel, house builders and supermarket stocks are showing decent gains, so it is a broad based rally."
Barclays PLC (NYSE:BCS) was among the biggest gainers, ascending 7% to £11.54 in London and 5.2% to $5.78 in New York. It was the highest mark since July for Barclays after the company posted third-quarter profit of £611 million, well ahead of the £273.5 million consensus estimate.
In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gave back its early gains, as has been the pattern this week. The index went from up about 70 points to down 88, 0.3%, just after noon ET. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 34 points, 0.3%, to 11,471.4, and the S&P 500 fell 2.6 points, less than 0.1%, to 3,450.9.
"The session on Wall Street is mixed as there hasn’t been much enthusiasm from traders," Madden wrote. "Once again, there has been a lot of talk about the proposed US stimulus package, but at the same time, differences of opinion still exist, according to Larry Kudlow – an economic advisor to Mr Trump. It seems that the chances of a deal being struck before the Presidential election are dwindling."
3.30pm: Proactive North America headlines:
True Leaf Brands Inc (CSE:MJ) (OTCPINK:TRLFF) (FRA:TLA) announces 'positive step forward' in its restructuring proceedings as creditors approve business proposals
American Manganese Inc (CVE:AMY) (OTCPINK:AMYZF) (FRA:2AM) says US government looks to Wenden national defense stockpile to end reliance on China for critical minerals
1.50pm: US stocks start mixed
US benchmarks started the last day of the trading week in mixed mood as traders look ahead to the release of economic data this morning and continue to mull whether a stimulus deal will be struck or not.
Last night saw the final debate before the November 3 election between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden and commentators says markets are likely to be jittery and lack direction before the decisive vote next month.
In early Wall Street deals, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added over 51 points at 28,414.
The S&P 500 gained over eight points at 3,462. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell into the red though, shedding around nine points at 11,496.
This morning sees the release of data for the manufacturing and services sectors this month (October), which will cast more light on the pace or lack thereof of the US recovery.
Investors are also wading through another batch of corporate earnings. Chip maker Intel (NASDAQ:INTEL) shares plunged over 10% to US$48.42 after it posted quarterly results after hours yesterday. It reported third-quarter net income of US$4.3 billion, down over 28% from US$5.99 billion in the same period of 2019.
1.45pm: IHG and LSE cold-shouldered
“Lockdowns hit hoteliers hard and the pain is not going away any time soon for holiday inn owner IHG, with this latest set of numbers showing a plunge in third-quarter revenue per available room, which fell 53.4% and 199 hotels remain closed,” commented Susannah Street, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
“However, as IHG only owns a handful of its portfolio of nearly 6,000 hotels, it’s fared better [than] many. While it’s offered support to its franchisees through the crisis, not being on the hook for hotel running costs has certainly helped the bottom line,” she noted.
“Still, with more than half of beds not filled, it will be a struggle to keep up momentum, given fresh coronavirus restrictions in some key markets; however the company is still forging ahead with new hotels, opening another 11 thousand rooms this quarter,” she added.
Shares in London Stock Exchange Group PLC (LON:LSE) fared a bit better, down 1.0% at 8,428p, after the bourses operator and financial information disseminator announced a 2% increase in total third-quarter income to £600mln.
Away from the big guns, controversial retirement homes builder McCarthy & Stone PLC (LON:MCS) is to be put out of its misery, with management agreeing to recommend a 115p per sharee offer from US private equity group Lone Star.
The shares were the top performers in London, up 40% at 116.4p.
It's inaccurate to describe these residents as homeowners, isn't it? They are #leaseholders and McCarthy & Stone are freeholder landlords. Their heavy lobbying means that, when government reduces ground rents to 0% , retirement apartments will still pay ground rent. Kerr-ching! https://t.co/sZDxhwlW8Q— Bids24 (@Bids241) October 15, 2020
12.35pm: US indices to open on the front foot
US stocks look set to start Friday on the front foot after the latest US presidential debate on Thursday night failed to spook investors.
Sentiment has also been boosted by continued negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi on a coronavirus stimulus package, while corporate earnings also offering some encouragement.
Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 74 points, or 0.3%, to 28,342, while S&P 500 futures gained 0.2%, and the Nasdaq 100 futures were also up 0.2%.
On Thursday, the Dow rose 152.84 points, or 0.5%, to close at 28,363.66, while the S&P 500 added 0.5%, and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.2%. All the major indices are set for small losses on the week.
Craig Erlam, senior market analyst, OANDA Europe commented: “Pelosi's optimism on a deal with the White House wasn't hugely shared on Wall Street on Thursday, with the Senate still being a massive hurdle blocking a stimulus package before election day. Trump was once again optimistic that he could push any agreement through the Senate, a view not shared by the majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
“Obviously a deal between Mnuchin and Pelosi would be a step forward which may provide a minor lift, not to mention pile pressure on some Republican Senators just ahead of election day. Voting down a stimulus package days before an election could be a damaging blow to a Senator in a close fight for re-election. Perhaps this is what Trump is banking on.”
Erlam added: “The next couple of weeks will be really interesting in these markets and we may see a lot of choppiness due to the considerable amount of uncertainty that will accompany it.
“The final debate was a far easier watch than the last, with both candidates giving a better account of themselves. The question is whether Trump has done enough to close a considerable gap,” he added.
In London, the Footsie continues to fight shy of accumulating a triple-digit gain but is still in a healthy condition, up 85 points (1.5%) at 5,871.
11.25am: UK economic recovery beginning to lose momentum
Views on this morning’s “flash” purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs) and the retail sales numbers are rolling in.
“The October ‘flash’ purchasing managers’ surveys for the UK manufacturing and services sectors indicate that activity lost momentum at the start of the fourth quarter,” said Howard Archer, the chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.
“The loss of momentum is particularly marked in the services sector. This was strongly influenced by new restrictions on the hospitality sector, as pubs, bars and restaurants were given a 10pm curfew and were restricted to table service only. There were also reports that general consumer spending on services had been dampened by restrictions,” he added.
James Smith, the economist covering developed markets at ING, said the UK’s economic recovery from COVID-19 is faltering.
“That’s the core message from the latest purchasing managers’ index, which while technically still above the breakeven 50-level for both manufacturing and services, show early signs of moderation,” Smith said, adding the caveat that the PMIs “are probably not the best gauge of activity at the moment”.
Smith has been spying on Google’s spying on us and looking at the mobility data, which he says has proven to be a fairly good proxy for activity during the earlier phases of lockdown.
“That tells us that in major UK cities, people are starting to stay at home more and go out less. That’s also the tentative conclusion from the recent Springboard footfall data, published by the ONS,” he noted.
He also calculates that more than a quarter of England’s population live in areas where the number of weekly COVID-19 cases exceeds 200 per 100,000 people.
“If those areas were all to see Tier 3, or ‘Very High’, restrictions imposed over the coming weeks, that could potentially affect (either directly or partially) around 200,000 workers in licensed restaurants/pubs alone,” he cautions.
As for the retail sales data, Rupert Thompson, the chief investment officer at asset management firm Kingswood, said the September gain was “unexpectedly strong”.
“However, this is only encouraging up to a point as this strength was prior to the introduction of the new lockdown/social distancing measures. Business confidence fell back in October with the decline led by the services sector, the area the most vulnerable to the latest restrictions. This fall highlights the need for the new package of support measures announced by the Chancellor yesterday,” he said.
As it happens, London’s equity market was largely ignoring the economic data, with the FTSE 100 up 85 points (1.5%) at 5,870.
10.55am: Lower bade debt provisions by Barclays sparks stampede into banking stocks
The FTSE 100 was up 78 points (1.4%) at 5,864, with the index’s top three risers – Barclays PLC (LON:BARC), Lloyds Banking Group PLC (LON:LLOY) and Standard Chartered PLC (LON:STAN) – all coming from the banking sector.
The trio notched up gains ranging from 5.0% to 7.6% after Barclays posted another profit in the third quarter of 2020 as it made a smaller provision for bad loans arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its investment bank continued to thrive.
“While these results aren’t exactly pretty, they’re far less ugly than we had feared they might be,” said Nicholas Hyett of Hargreaves Lansdown in his analysis of Barclays’ results.
Barclays Q320 Earnings:— LiveSquawk (@LiveSquawk) October 23, 2020
CIB Revenue: GBP2.91B (est GBP2.62B)
Total Income: GBP5.2B (est GBP4.87B)
Adj Pretax Profit: GBP1.22B (est GBP650.5M)
Sees FY20 Costs Broadly Flat Versus FY19
Sees H220 Impairment To Be Materially Below Of H120
“However, it’s important not to get carried away. Low interest rates look like they’re here to stay, and that will squeeze profitability in lending. Even in these troubled times interest accounts for 40% of the group’s revenues. There’s no mention in these results about what negative rates could mean for profits – but it’s unlikely to be pretty.
“While the future is uncertain we take comfort from the fact the bank is pretty well capitalised – with a significant surplus over the regulatory minimum. As a result, the board seem to be toying with a return to paying dividend’s next year, although we’ll have to wait for full-year results to find out exactly what they have in mind. Some form of capital return would inevitably be cheered by investors, and given the shares are trading on only a little over 25% of their book value even returning a modest portion of profits could result in a fairly sizeable dividend yield,” he added.
9.45am: UK services and manufacturing PMIs come off the boil
The IHS Markit / CIPS Flash UK Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for October fell to a four-month low of 52.9 in October.
The index, which is calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents experiencing a contraction in activity from the percentage of those reporting expansion, fell from September’s level of 56.5.
The services business activity index for October also hit a four-month low, sliding to 52.3 in October from 56.1 in September.
The manufacturing output index eased to 56.4 (a four-month low) from September’s 59.0.
The manufacturing PMI retreated to a three-month low of 53.3 from 54.1 in September.
"The pace of UK economic growth slowed in October to the weakest since the recovery from the national COVID-19 lockdown began. Not surprisingly the weakening is most pronounced in the hospitality and transport sectors, as firms reported falling demand due to renewed lockdown measures and customers being deterred by worries over rising case numbers,” said Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at IHS Markit, which conducts the survey.
"The slowdown would have been even more pronounced had it not been for exports rising as overseas customers sought to secure orders before potential supply disruptions as Brexit draws closer.
"The slower growth of output, the renewed fall in demand and further deterioration in the labour market suggest the economy started the fourth quarter on a weakened footing. While Brexit preparations may cause a short-term boost to some parts of the economy ahead of 31st December, rising COVID-19 cases and the imposition of local lockdown measures bode ill for the near-term economic outlook. While the fourth quarter still looks likely to see the economy expand, the rate of growth looks to have slowed sharply and the risk of a renewed downturn has risen,” Williamson said.
Duncan Brock, the group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), said fears over inherent weaknesses in the UK economy materialised this month.
"Where some businesses were largely unaffected or were able to recoup losses quickly following the worst of the pandemic, consumer-facing businesses were the worst hit and some are now concerned about the prospect of total ruin. Either unable to fully open or tempt customers through the doors, hospitality firms saw their hands tied by further lockdown restrictions, safety measures for staff and customers, and the public more reluctant to leave their homes,” Brock said.
"Manufacturing companies had a better month as production remained steady, but at its slowest pace since July when the recovery first started to pick up speed. Sharper falls in job numbers as a result of redundancies and reduced customer demand along with higher prices for raw materials means the sector is still under pressure.
"Optimism fell to levels last seen in May, and unpredictability remains the only predictable conclusion for the remainder of the year,” he added.
The FTSE 100 was up 68 points (1.2%) at 5,854.
8.50am: Mood improves for Footsie
After a generally dour trading week, the FTSE 100 seems to be looking to finish on a more positive note on Friday.
The index of UK blue-chip shares opened 36 points higher at 5,821.42.
Better than expected monthly retail sales figures lifted the mood a tad – that, the performance of the UK’s banking sector and a bit of bargain hunting after a near-23% slide in the blue-chip index from its early-year high.
Still, bubbling away in the background is the issue of further, economically-punitive coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns, with a number of England’s major cities under (or soon to be subject to) tough restrictions. Wales, meanwhile, is now enacting its firebreak policy to prevent the coronavirus spread, while Scotland took early action.
On the market, Barclays (LON:BARC) rose 3.6% early on after posting better than expected quarterly figures. It did so by setting aside fewer provisions for COVID-19-related debt defaults.
“Having seen US banks cut back their loan loss provisions in the third quarter we’ve seen Barclays do the same thing this morning,” said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets.
“These loan loss provisions were one of the most notable characteristics of the numbers that we saw in the second quarter, particularly in the context of the impact the economic slowdown the coronavirus pandemic had on bank profit margins, as well as the rise in non-performing loans.”
Among the small-caps, Sensyne Health (LON:SENS), founded and run by former science minister Lord Drayson, was up 9% after the group signed its fourth artificial intelligence deal with a big pharma company.
Braveheart Investments (LON:BRH) was up 11% after its investee company said its coated masks that are primed to kill COVID-19 will be on sale by the end of December.
Braveheart is selling its plus-50% stake in the company developing the coating and masks, which is called Pharm2Farm.
7.30am: Shoppers returning
UK retail sales volumes rose by 1.5% in September from August’s level, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday.
It was the fifth consecutive month of retail sales growth, with sales volumes 5.5% above February’s pre-pandemic level.
The proportion of online sales was at 27.5%, compared with 20.1% reported in February, despite small monthly declines across most of the retail sector.
Meanwhile, market research group GfK revealed UK consumer sentiment took a knock in October.
The index fell to -31 in October from -25 in September; economists had predicted a reading of -27.
Sharp drop in #UK #consumer confidence in October worrying for spending prospects in fourth quarter after the consumer clearly played leading role in #economy's third quarter bounce back. #UK consumer sentiment falls by most since start of pandemic - GfK https://t.co/Qyh2Fj5Bvy— Howard Archer (@HowardArcherUK) October 23, 2020
Following the release of the retail sales figures, consumer sentiment index and trading updates from FTSE 100 constituents Barclays PLC (LON:BARC), London Stock Exchange Group PLC (LON:LSE) and InterContinental Holdings Group PLC (LON:IHG), the Footsie was expected to open little changed.
Proactive news headlines:
Sensyne Health PLC (LON:SENS) has agreed a research collaboration with Bristol Myers Squibb that will see it deploy its artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help better understand certain rare blood diseases. Work will focus on Myeloproliferative Neoplasms to assess the progression of these blood cancers that are characterised by the over-production of white or red cells, or platelets. No financial terms were disclosed. This is Sensyne’s fourth partnership with a major pharma company following deals with Bayer, Roche and Alexion.
Braveheart Investment Group PLC (LON:BRH) has said a new antiviral face mask that can kill coronavirus (COVID-19) will go on sale by the end of the year. This follows a flurry of activity at Braveheart investee company Pharm2Farm (P2F), which has developed a textile coating incorporating nanoparticles with long-lasting virucidal properties. It now has testing results from two independent labs that show the mask textile has a ‘kill rate’ of over 90% for up to seven hours, meeting the requirements for ISO 18184 certification. Meanwhile, Braveheart’s sale of its 51.72% stake in P2F to Remote Monitored Systems PLC (LON:RMS) is expected to complete on November 5. As a result, Braveheart will own 37.12% of RMS.
Aminex PLC (LON:AEX) has announced the completion of its farm-out deal with ARA Petroleum Tanzania Limited (APT). "We are delighted to finally complete the farm-out and hand over operatorship of the Ruvuma PSA to APT,” said Robert Ambrose, Aminex chief executive in a statement. The company now retains a 25% interest in the Ruvuma asset – which includes the Ntorya gas project and exploration areas – and APT will fund a forward programme including the drilling of the Chikumbi-1 well and a new seismic programme over at least 200 square kilometres.
Avation PLC (LON:AVAP), the civil aircraft lessor, said it stayed in profit in its latest financial year in spite of the problems facing airlines due to coronavirus restrictions. Profits dropped 43% to US$14.3mln in the year to end June 2020, which was largely the result of US$35.5mln of impairment losses offset partially by an unrealised gain of US$27.1mln for purchase rights with plane manufacturer ATR. Revenue increased by 14% to US$135.3mln during the year, which was a new record said the company, and before the one-offs profits rose 28% to US$19.8mln.
Powerhouse Energy Group PLC (LON:PHE) has told investors that Dr Cameron Davies will retire as a director of the company on March 31, 2021. The company intends to appoint Mark Berry as a non-executive director. He is a partner in law firm Norton Rose Fulbright which has particular expertise in the energy industry, Powerhouse noted.
Shanta Gold Limited (LON:SHG) announced after the market close on Thursday that it is proposing to raise roughly £31mln by way of a placing and a direct subscription of shares priced at 16.5p each. All of the directors of the East Africa-focused gold producer, developer and explorer, have indicated an intention to participate in the subscription, up to an aggregate amount of about £270,000. The funds raised will pay for infill drilling, expansion drilling, technical studies and working capital over the next 36 months at the company's West Kenya Project.
Pan African Resources plc (LON:PAF) has said its American depositary receipts (ADRs) are to be traded on the OTCQX Best Market, starting Friday, October 23, 2020. The OTCQX market is the highest tier of the over-the-counter (OTC) market operated by OTC Markets Group. The ADRs were previously traded on the Pink OTC market.
Power Metal Resources PLC (LON:POW) the AIM-listed metals exploration and development company said it has received notices to exercise warrants over 7,136,000 new ordinary shares of 0.1 pence each in the company. The warrant shares are being issued under the exercise for 4,636,000 warrants at an exercise price of 1.0p each and 2,500,000 warrants at an exercise price of 0.7p each. Subscription monies of £63,860 have been received by Power Metal in respect of these exercises.
Tiziana Life Sciences PLC (NASDAQ:TLSA) (LON:TILS), a biotechnology company focused on innovative therapeutics for oncology, inflammation and infectious diseases, said it has allotted and issued 285,714 ordinary shares of 3p each credited as fully paid at a price of 35p per share in respect of the exercise of 285,714 warrants held by a warrant holder.
Stobart Group PLC (LON:STOB), the aviation and energy infrastructure group, has said it will announce its interim results for the six months ended 31 August 2020 on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. The group will hold an investor presentation at 9.30am UK time on the same day hosted by Warwick Brady, its chief executive officer and Lewis Girdwood, its chief financial officer. The presentation will be hosted through the digital platform Investor Meet Company. Investors can access the webcast by visiting: https://www.investormeetcompany.com/stobart-group-ld/register-investor
6.50am: Small advance predicted
Helped by a soft sterling exchange rate, the FTSE 100 is set to open proceedings modestly firmer on Friday.
Spread betting quotes point to London’s index of leading shares rising 18 points to 5,804 as the dollar rose following last night’s US presidential debate and ahead of the release of a slew of purchasing managers’ indices (PMis) today plus UK retail sales.
The market received an additional boost to sentiment with the news that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Veklury, the coronavirus (COVID-19) treatment from Gilead Sciences that was formerly known as Remdesivir.
“European stocks look set for cautiously higher open with the idea that the presidential debate won't have diminished chances of a new US stimulus bill. The approval of Remdesivir by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] as the first drug to treat COVID-19 is a big positive for markets beset by second wave concerns,” said LCG’s Jasper Lawler.
US markets put in a good shift yesterday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 153 points to close at 28,364 and the S&P 500 climbing 18 points to 3,453.
Asian markets picked up the baton this morning, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 up 81 points at 23,555 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up 153 points at 24,939.
On the macroeconomic agenda today in the UK we have the retail sales figures for September and the “flash” PMIs.
“The latest retail sales numbers for September, which could well be a last hurrah ahead of what could well be a bleak autumn for the UK economy,” suggested CMC’s Michael Hewson.
“The big question as Q3 draws to a close is whether today’s September numbers can round off another month of gains as summer draws to a close. The prevailing thinking, if judged purely on the basis of recent PMI data would be in the positive; however, life is rarely that simple. Other retail sales surveys do offer some encouragement.
"The recent British Retail Consortium sales numbers for September showed a 6.1% rise, well above the 4.7% rise in August, driven largely by increased spending in pubs, as well as higher DIY spending and a back to school boost,” Hewson said, before noting “this could be as good as it gets for a while, as we head towards the potential for a train wreck in Q4, as new lockdown restrictions start to bite”.
“Expectations are for a rise of 0.4% [down from 0.6% in August], though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that come in slightly higher,” he suggested.
As for the PMIs, the manufacturing number is expected to ease to 53.2 from September’s 54.1, which is still above the 50-point level that separates contraction from expansion, while economists have pencilled in a number of 53.4 for services, down from 56.1 in September.
Unusually for a Friday, the company results schedule is quite busy, with Barclays, London Stock Exchange Group and Intercontinental Hotels all releasing trading updates for the summer quarter.
READ Busy Friday ahead with Barclays, London Stock Exchange Group, Intercontinental Hotels on the schedule
Around the markets:
- Sterling: US$1.3061, down 0.23 cents
- 10-year gilt: 0.286%, up 4.3 basis points
- Gold: US$1,908.10 an ounce, up US$3.50
- Brent crude: US$42.39 a barrel, down 7 cents
- Bitcoin: US$12,953, down US$175
6.45am: Early Markets - Asia/Australia
Shares in the Asia-Pacific region were mixed on Friday as investors continued to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic, US stimulus talks and the final Trump-Biden election debate.
China’s Shanghai composite was 0.05% lower while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.44%.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 rose 0.40% while South Korea’s Kospi was 0.40% higher.
Meanwhile, shares in Australia dipped below the flatline, with the S&P/ASX 200 down 0.11%.
Proactive Australia news:
Mali Lithium Ltd (ASX:MLL), which is soon to be renamed FireFinch, has received a response described as overwhelmingly positive to a $6 million share purchase plan (SPP), which closed heavily oversubscribed and raised around $9.835 million before costs.
Macarthur Minerals Ltd (ASX:MIO) (CVE:MMS) (OTCMKTS:MMSDF) has closed a well-supported private placement with subscriptions from institutional and sophisticated investors totalling 11,362,618 new shares for funds of almost A$6.25 million.
Kazia Therapeutics Limited (ASX:KZA) (NASDAQ:KZIA) (FRA:NV9M) has successfully completed the A$8.8 million retail component of its A$25.2 million entitlement offer of shares at 80 cents per new share.
Orion Minerals Ltd (ASX:ORN) (JSE:ORN) has started a new phase of high-impact exploration drilling targeting near-mine and regional VMS copper-zinc and nickel-copper targets at Prieska Copper-Zinc Project in South Africa’s Northern Cape.
Aspire Mining Ltd (ASX:AKM) remains committed to turning the Ovoot Coking Project in Mongolia into a first world development that will provide high-quality jobs and community benefits to ensure efficiency and mitigate environmental impacts.
TNT Mines Ltd (ASX:TIN) hit a new record high after signing a binding share sale agreement to acquire Warriedar Mining Pty Ltd, which owns the Eureka and Warriedar gold projects in Western Australia, both with a history of gold production.
VRX Silica Ltd (ASX:VRX) has received notice from the Yamatji Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) that conclusive registration of the Yamatji Nation Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) is expected today, in accordance with the terms of the ILUA.
Australian Potash Ltd (ASX:APC) has welcomed the start of a detailed assessment and due diligence on the Lake Wells Sulphate of Potash Project (LSOP) by the Australian Federal Government’s export credit agency Export Finance Australia (EFA).