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Housebuilder, hospitality and retail shares boosted by Budget news

A look at the major movers on the London market on Wednesday

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A large chunk of the Budget measures had been well flagged ahead of the actual speech, but their confirmation has still given a boost to certain sectors, notably hospitality, retail and housebuilders.

News of the furlough extension and the continuation of the reduced 5% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality has boosted Whitbread PLC (LON.WTB) - owner of Premier Inns - by 194p or 5.7% to 3600p. British Airways owner International Consolidated Airlines Group (LON.IAG) - a big user of the furlough scheme -  is also in demand, up 12.1p or 5.97% to 214.8p.

A freeze on alcohol duty has given a lift to pub groups (albeit we don't know for sure exactly when they will be able to fully re-open), so J D Wetherspoon PLC (LON.JDW) is up 81p or 6.5% at 1327p while Mitchells and Butlers PLC (LON.MAB) is 14p or 4.71% better at 311.5p.

Retailers are buoyed by business rates relief, with JD Sports Fashion PLC (LON.JD) running up a 19.4p or 2.39% gain to 832.4p.

Hopes of an economic recovery have supported the banks, with Barclays PLC (LON.BARC) 6.14p or 3.79% better at 168.36p.

In housing the stamp duty holiday will be extended from the end of March to June, and first-time buyers will get a Government guarantee on 95% mortgages. So Barratt Developments (LON.BDEV) is 39p or 5.7% better at 723.2p and Persimmon PLC (LON.PSN), already higher following its figures, is up 154p or 5.68% at 2864p.

2.22pm: CCTV company surges

UniVision Engineering Ltd (LON.UVEL) has more than doubled after the Hong Kong based company's chairman Stephen Koo agreed to sell a 52% stake in the closed circuit television specialist at well above the current market price.

Koo, who will retain around 20.5%, will receive 4.1p a share or £8.2m from Singapore IT investment group SinoCloud. In the market UniVision's Aim-listed shares have jumped by 1.2p or 109% to 2.3p.

If the deal goes ahead - and it needs due diligence, a fundraising and approval by SinoCloud shareholders - the Singapore company will make a funding facility of HK$10m available to UniVision.

But UniVision has made clear that the UK takeover code does not apply and even though SinoCloud would own 52% it has no current intent to make an offer for the rest of the shares.

11.35am: Waste group upbeat on prospects

Biffa PLC (LON.BIFF) has seen its shares bounce after it said the impact of the third lockdown on its earnings would be less severe than it originally thought.

The waste management group said revenues in the third quarter were at 97% of the levels reached at the same time last year, and are expected to be around 92% in the final three months.

Last week it completed an £87.5m deal to buy Company Shop Group, a redistributor of surplus food and household products, and it is also expanding its plastic milk bottle recyclying business.

It said it was "well-positioned for a strong post pandemic future."

Its shares are up 15p or 5.85% at 271.5p.

10.35am: Insurer hit by pandemic payout costs

Insurer Hiscox Ltd (LON.HSX) has seen its shares drop sharply as it revealed the scars to its accounts from the pandemic.

It fell into a $268m full year loss, compared to a profit of $53m last year, and admitted its growth ambitions for 2021 were modest. With the dividend cancelled for the year, its shares have dropped 11.37% or 111.6p to 870p. Analysts at UBS suggested the outlook statement would prompt modest profit downgrades and - correctly - predicted a negative reaction.

Hiscox chairman Robert Childs said: "2020 got off to a good start and then came the global pandemic. Over my 48 years in the business, I have experienced most of the challenges that Mother Nature and mankind have thrown at the insurance industry, but Covid-19 and its repercussions have been one of the most testing. As a result, we expect to pay $475 million in Covid-related claims net of reinsurance, the majority for event cancellation and the remaining for business interruption and other claims. These are large sums and disappointingly means that we will make a pre-tax loss for the year of $268 million. Without Covid-19 we would have produced a profit of $207 million."

It has also seen its brand damaged this year after arguments with customers over pandemic payouts, which was only resolved in the Supreme Court.

Childs said: "For Hiscox UK, Covid-19 brought about a dispute with a number of our customers over the wording in some commercial property policies. Our commitment to putting things right for our customers has long been the cornerstone of the Hiscox brand. But for the first time, our reputation for paying claims quickly and without fuss came under intense scrutiny. We regret any dispute with a customer, but particularly where the policy wording was not as clear as it should have been. That is why we willingly agreed to be one of the group of insurers that assisted the FCA with the test case and we welcome the finality and certainty the Supreme Court Judgment has brought. We are now paying covered claims as quickly as possible."

9.38am: Kitchen products firm sees strong recovery

Norcros PLC (LON.NXR), has built up a strong gain after a recovery in demand for its kitchen and bathroom products. Its shares have jumped 18p or 7.66% to 253p after it said full year profits were likely to beat expectations.

A strong recovery in the second quarter of its financial year has continued, with revenues for the four months to 7 February 2021 rising by 117% compared to the same period last year. New houses being built in the UK boosted demand, as did increased activity levels in repair and maintenance in the UK and South Africa.

It said: "The Board remains confident that the Group's leading market positions, established brands, broad distribution channels and experienced management team will deliver further growth, notwithstanding that economic conditions are likely to remain uncertain as our main markets continue to adjust to the impact of the pandemic. Consequently, it is now expected that reported underlying profit for the year to 31 March 2021 will be no less than £28m on a post-IFRS 16 basis and ahead of current market expectations of circa £25m".

Peter Ashworth at Shore Capital said: "This update is highly positive. The Group’s trading performance in the second half has improved markedly, with revenue ahead of the comparable period by some margin...The indication that underlying profit is likely to be no less than £3m ahead of consensus demonstrates the overall strength of the Group’s trading performance, in challenging market conditions, given the pandemic. The shares have performed strongly in the last three months to date, rising by 20%. Further outperformance is likely, given this positive trading update."

8.42am: Barkby upbeat despite pub struggles

Investors in The Barkby Group PLC (LON.BARK), the gastropubs operator which turned itself into a miniconglomerate, have cheered its latest update despite the impact of COVID-19 on its business.

The company made a £2m net loss in the six months to December, not helped by its pubs and coffee shops having to shut during lockdown. But its diversification plan has helped support the business, with the property division in particular performing well. It completed a development in Hastings in August 2020 and sold it to Hastings Borough Council with a net balancing payment receipt of £1.8m, and has just announced the exchange of contracts for the sale of a development site at Saffron Walden.

Investments in SleepHub, which specialises in sleep aids, and healthcare group Verso Biosense are both expected to pay off in terms of earnings next year.

Executive chairman Charles Dickson, said: "Barkby has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic largely due to the success of our highly cash generative commercial property development business and activity has resumed apace. As we come out of lockdown, our pubs and coffee business are poised for significant growth and a return to profitability. The Group's investments in SleepHub and Verso Biosense are performing well.  Our liquidity is strong and the diversification of the business means that the Group is in a strong position to benefit from the lifting of government lockdown restrictions. We look forward to the next 12 months with confidence."

Its shares are up 0.75p or 3.57% to 21.75p on the news.

Elsewhere Jersey Oil and Gas (LON.JOG) has jumped 11.73% or 26.5p to 252.5p following a positive report on its development project in the Greater Buchan Area of the North Sea, which has an estimated 172 million barrels of discovered and recoverable oil volumes. 

Chief executive Andrew Benitz said: "The Greater Buchan Area has the scale to be extremely low carbon through platform electrification at the same time as offering highly favourable project economics. As a result of a significant amount of work from Jersey Oil & Gas' excellent project team, working with specialist contractors, consultants and service providers, we are well on track to deliver on our Licence commitment to deliver the Concept Select to the Oil and Gas Authority ("OGA") by July this year.

"We now plan to launch a farm-out process, which we expect to be highly attractive to a wide range of oil companies in light of the project's scale, economics and low carbon potential through platform electrification, characteristic of certain fully electrified fields offshore Norway."

Proactive news headlines

Argo Blockchain PLC (LON:ARB) has been burning the (figurative) midnight oil, mining 129 Bitcoin (or equivalent) in February, up from 93 in January.

Gore Street Energy Storage Fund PLC (LON:GSF) told investors that it is now participating in the National Grid's new dynamic containment service, and will have most of its operational portfolio in the service from the start of April.

Inspired Energy PLC(LON:INSE) has completed the acquisitions of BWS Holdco (Businesswise) and General Energy Management (GEM). The company said its corporate order book has risen above £73mln as a result of the acquisitions, which are expected to enhance earnings in fiscal 2021.

Jersey Oil and Gas PLC (LON:JOG) has reported key findings from a concept selection report for the proposed Greater Buchan Area project, in the North Sea, highlighting the potential for 172mln barrels of oil resources to be developed from a fully electrified platform.

Westmount Energy Limited (LON:WTE, OTCQB:WMELF) awaits results of Exxon’s Bulletwood-1 exploration well offshore Guyana, as maritime reports reveal that the Stena Carron drillship is leaving the well site.

Genedrive PLC (AIM: GDR) said new clinical guidance on screening to prevent antibiotic hearing loss (AHL) in babies should drive demand for its breakthrough diagnostic device.

Allergy Therapeutics PLC (LON:AGY) posted record profits for the six-month stage as the group, which, as the name suggests, specialises in allergy treatments for conditions such as hay fever, emerged from the period in rude health.

SourceBio International PLC (LON:SBI) announced it will expand its laboratory operations in San Diego, California, to include COVID-19 qPCR testing services.

PCF Group PLC (LON:PCF) said managing director Robert Murray is to retire at the end of this month after 27 years with the company. His duties will be assumed by Garry Stran, who was recruited in December to be the company's chief operating officer.

IQGeo Group Plc (LON:IQG) has appointed geospatial industry veteran Richard Weiss as European regional manager.

Love Hemp Group PLC (LON:LIFE, OTCQB:WRHLF) notified investors that its name change from World High Life has become effective from today.

Evgen Pharma PLC (LON:EVG) said the open offer element of its fundraising concluded with all the available shares taken up. The fundraising remains conditional on shareholders approval at a general meeting at 10am today.

FastForward Innovations Ltd (LON:FFWD) is making a new corporate presentation available on its website today at http://www.fstfwd.co.

Tharisa PLC (LON:THS) will be hosting a live interactive presentation via the Investor Meet Company platform on Wednesday, 10 March at 3pm GMT. "In view of the significant increase in demand for the metals required for reducing global emissions, with platinum group metals playing a key role, the interactive presentation will provide investors with an opportunity to speak to the management of one of the largest producers of PGMs globally," the company said.

4D pharma PLC (LON:DDDD) said members of its management team will present at three upcoming investor conferences: Chardan's Virtual 3rd Annual Microbiome Medicines Summit on Monday March 8 at 11:45am ET (4.45pm GMT); the HC Wainwright Global Life Sciences Conference that is on-demand starting from Tuesday, March 9 at 7am ET (12pm GMT); and Oppenheimer's 31st Annual Healthcare Conference on Tuesday, March 16 at 8.40am ET (12.40pm GMT).

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