London markets are struggling to make up their minds in early trade on Tuesday, seemingly taking in stride unease in the euro zone in the wake of the Greek elections but tentative over UK growth figures due later today. The FTSE 100 nudges 3.5 points lower in to 6,850 having risen by a similar token from the off, although British mid caps put in a stronger showing thanks to a handful of upbeat trading updates. The FTSE 250 index moves 35 points north to 16,505.
Wall Street firmed overnight while Asian and key European markets are mixed. Oil continues its weak run, WTI crude off 0.5% to $44.92/bbl with Brent crude down 0.6% to $47.86/bbl.
Financial act as the biggest sector drag on blue-chips, with banking groups Standard Chartered (STAN), 0.8% off at 939p, and HSBC (HSBA) (1% down at 621.1p) among Footsie lead losers, although Dixons Carphone (DC.) heads the blue-chip fallers, sliding 4.5% to 410.4p.
Going the other way, budget airline EasyJet's (EZJ) heads the Footsie leader board, the shares rallying 4.2% to 18.30 as the group posts total revenue up £34 million to £931 million in the December-2014 quarter. Revenue per seat grew by 0.8% on a reported basis to £56.16 per seat or by 3.7% at constant currency.
But the biggest collapse of the day comes at oil explorer Afren (AFR). The west Africa-based energy company sees its shares tumble more than 52% to 8.41p after revealing the extent of its financing squeeze, indicating a major debt restructuring will be needed without a fresh funding injection, or the mooted takeover by Nigeria's Seplat. The dislocation of the oil market had forced its board to examine its capital structure and the conclusion it reached was not a good one.
Minerals miner Nyota Minerals (NYO:AIM) is also sharply off, crashing 33% to 0.06p, as it reveals its failure to convince Ethiopian authorities to issue licences for alluvial mining along those parts of the Abay River and tributaries that will be flooded by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Indian wind power group Greenko (GKO:AIM) rallies 5.6% to 112p as it unveils an upbeat operational performance for the final nine months of its revised financial year, reporting in-line with expectations.
Pharma company Benchmark (BMK:AIM) falls 15.4% to 92.25p despite reporting a 28% hike in full year revenues to £35.4 million. However, EBITDA fell 11% to £6.6 million and it swung to an operating loss of £1.2 million, from a profit of £5.1 million.
Housebuilder Crest Nicholson (CRST) report another excellent financial performance in a buoyant housing market. It was on target to achieve revenue growth of 70% to 80% over 2013 by 2016 and says volume targets set at the IPO have been reached well ahead of schedule, with completions up 16% at 2,530 homes. The shares rise 4.2% to 388.1p.
But telecoms services, kit and software specialist Gamma Communications (GAMA:AIM), one of Shares 15 for 2015 picks at , jumps 5.7% to 268p as it reveals strong trading that will see full year 2014 revenue and adjusted EBITDA slightly beat market forecasts that were pitched at around £169 million and £22 million respectively. Gamma IPO'd on AIM on 10 October at 187p.
A drop in fourth quarter selling prices leaves investors disappointed with Gem Diamonds (GEMD:AIM), down 3.9% to 162.5p. This echoes a similar reaction to Petra Diamonds' (PDL) trading update yesterday where it flagged a weak outlook short-term for the diamond market.
Soft drinks group Britvic (BVIC) adds 4.9% to 677.5p on a reassuring first quarter update. Despite subdued market conditions, the Robinsons, Tango and Fruit Shoot maker is confident of delivering full-year earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) in line with the previous £164 million to £173 million guidance range, thanks to cost-cutting and buoyed by a strong Christmas performance.
Consumer products giant PZ Cussons (PZC) rebounds 3.6% to 322.25p on relief first-half results are in-line with guidance given in December. Underlying sales and profit growth was delivered despite exchange rate headwinds and challenging conditions in Nigeria, its biggest market.
Asset manager Mattioli Woods (MTW:AIM) adds 2.4% to 506p as expanding discretionary assets under management help increase recurring revenues at the group. In a trading update for the six months to end-November, earnings per share rise 5.9% to 10.3p.
Pub owner and brewer Marston's (MARS) edges up 1.6% to 149p on a 2% increase in like-for-like sales during the 16 weeks ending 24 January. The Pitcher & Piano owner says Christmas was particularly strong, with sales up 4.8%, while profitability is in line with expectations. Plans to open at least 25 new pub restaurants this year remain on track.
Rugs, carpets and laminates purveyor Carpetright (CPR) clips ahead 3.25p to 450p on a better-than-expected third quarter trading statement, highlighting 7.5% UK like-for-like growth in the UK over the 13 weeks to 24 January.