The market is off to a quiet start ahead of George Osborne’s Budget announcement at lunchtime. The FTSE nudges ahead 24 points to 6,163.
The biggest corporate news is the recommended all-share merger between London Stock Exchange (LSE) and Deutsche Borse. It is called a merger of equals but LSE shareholders will only hold 45.6% of the combined business and the two parties haven’t yet agreed a new name for the group.
The oil and gas sector is in demand after the International Energy Agency called a bottom in oil prices and the US reported a smaller than expected build in oil stocks. Majors BP (BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) are up 2.1% at 349.2p and 1.6% at £16.88 respectively.
Micro cap video social networking provider Forbidden Technologies (FBT:AIM) is the biggest mover of the day leaping 46% to 13.5p on news it has secured a distribution agreement with Microsoft (MSFT:NYSE). Forbidden's product allows media companies to edit and produce video content via a cloud-based app.
Respiratory drug specialist Vectura (VEC) is merging with drug delivery specialist SkyePharma (SKP) in deal that values the latter at £441.3 million, a 4.2% premium to the target’s share price on the night before the deal was announced. Vectura’s shares edge 0.5% higher on the news to 147.3p, while SkyePharma’s advance 4% to 409.2p.
Leisure park ticketing expert Accesso Technology (ACSO:AIM) jumps 2.9% to 985p on well-received full year results. Pre-tax profit is up 41.2% to $7.2 million. Canaccord Genuity increases its price target from 920p to £11.00, saying the stock deserves a high rating 'because it is growing rapidly and revenues are highly visible.
An 8% drop in pre-tax profit to $355 million in 2015 sends Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK) 6.6% lower to £16.07. A 30% decline in generic drug sales has been blamed thanks to lower-than-expected sales of gout treatment colchicine.
Engineering conglomerate Smiths (SMIN) slips 1.5% to £10.61 after it reveals its John Crane division is continuing to suffer from the tough oil and gas markets, sending the operating margin down 330 basis points to 19.9% in the six months to 31 January 2016. This was offset by strong growth in Smiths' medical devices and detection arms, which helped boost group statutory pre-tax profit by 28% to £168 million. Statutory group revenue is 3% lower at £1.37 billion.
Small cap digital education specialist Tribal (TRB) dips 12.4% to 38p as it announces a one-for-one rights issue at 22p a share. New chief executive Ian Bowles says the business' progress is being restricted by high levels of debt.
Cake, bread and croissants maker Finsbury Food (FIF:AIM) bakes in a 3.3% gain at 110p on strong interim results delivered in the face of testing grocery market conditions. The diversified bakery manufacturer reports tasty top line and operating profit growth, driven organically and via the recent Fletchers and Johnstone's acquisitions, as well as a hike in operating margins from 4.2% to 5.1%. Debt is down, the half-time dividend is up and there's also a confident outlook.
Romania-based miner Vast Resources (VAST) jumps 13.5% to 0.55p on news that investment group Crede has finally gone below the 3% ownership level. The latter has been selling stock in Vast for some time, depressing the share price. We discussed Vast's potential re-rating in a recent article in SHARES which you can read here.
Pathfinder Minerals (PFP:AIM) falls 7.4% to 0.62p after saying it may give up to a quarter of its business (via issuing new shares) to a third party if they help win back licences to two mineral sands projects in Mozambique. The small cap miner has been fighting a court battle for several years to recover the licences previously awarded, but subsequently lost in 2012.
A profit warning sends dementia testing software-maker Cambridge Cognition (COG:AIM) plummeting 16% to 57.5p. The company is set for an £800,000 loss in 2015, four times higher than previously expected thanks to a delayed contract and funding its expansion plans.
Minimally invasive medical tool-maker Surgical Innovations (SUN:AIM) climbs 10% to 1.6p on pre-tax losses shrinking to £2.1 million in 2015 from £9.8 million a year earlier. This is the result of cost cutting and a 36% rise in sales. Expectations of new product launches and a distribution agreement in the US drive further optimism.