UK markets again drift lower in opening deals as investors mull a weak end to Wall Street trading and a similarly fade out on Asian markets overnight, although gains by oil giant BP (BP.) limited today's declines. The FTSE 100 index is trading 0.3% off at 6,482 in early action as China's economy showed renewed weakness and crude oil remained below $50 a barrel. Britain's mid caps struggle also, the FTSE 250 index flagging by 0.6% to 15,812.
Oil major BP tops the Footsie leader board, up 1.9% at 400.2p, thanks to judges in the US surprisingly capping fines associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill at $13.7 billion. The US government had been seeking up to $18 billion under the Clean Water Act. A trial to determine the final penalty is scheduled to kick off in New Orleans next week. Today's news follows on from yesterday's revelation that the company was trimming 200 jobs and 100 contractor roles in the North Sea.
Beleaguered mid cap oily Afren (AFR) gains another 4% to 29.9p after yesterday;'s 30%-plus surge, as its takeover stakes rise. Potential suitor and Nigerian peer Seplat has secured an option to raise $700 million of debt to fund acquisitions. Seplat - which made a preliminary approach on a possible merger before Christmas (22 Dec) - has until the end of Monday (19 Jan) to make a firm offer or walk away.
Sports-to-outdoor brands seller JD Sports Fashion (JD.) jumps 7.2% to 510.5p as a stellar Christmas trading statement stokes upgrades. Like-for-like sales surged 12% higher in the five weeks to 3 January, driven by a knock-out performance from the sports fascias, and JD Sports now expects full-year profit before tax to exceed £90 million, the top end of market expectations.
Product testing and controls kit supplier Spectris (SXS) rallies strongly as it reports fourth quarter sales up across the board. The company still admits to tough end markets yet investors chase the shares 4.4% higher to £20.51.
An in-line full year trading update from LED lighting suppliers Dialight (DIA) leaves investors nonplussed, the shares off 2% at 789p. The update eases some concerns in the market over recent struggles on the obstruction lighting side, but worries over the health of CEO Roy Burton maybe also behind today's weak reaction.
Toy rights company Character (CCT:AIM) gains 5.3% to 310p on a positive trading update with Christmas sales ahead of expectations. Sales in the current financial year are up 28% over the same period last year and management says it should at least achieve current market expectations for the year ending 31 August 2015.
Five-a-side football centre operator Goals Soccer Centres (GOAL:AIM) falls 3% to 216p despite trading in line with expectations. Northland Capital says its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation) margin of 41% in the first half of 2014 implies full year EBITDA of £14.1 million, 8% below the market consensus of £15.4 million.
Medical and industrial products distributor Diploma (DPLM) gets a slight boost from the Swiss franc fall-out, adding 1.5% to 733p. It has led to a weaker euro - where Diploma buys products - and slight rebounds in the Australian and Canadian dollars, where it sells.
A short but positive-looking trading statement from John Menzies (MNZS) sees the stock tread water at 340p. Its aviation services business has been under pressure from overcapacity at Heathrow but management says trading is in line with expectations.
Marine navigation technology minnow Software Radio Technology (SRT:AIM) makes stellar 3.4% gains to 30.5p after signing an agreement for the supply of its dynamic 3D GeoVS maritime display system to a major port in Malaysia.
Enhanced annuity provider Partnership Assurance (PA.) falls 3.5% to 129p as it shelves plans for a bond issue.
Performance materials developer Graphene Nanochem (GRPH) nudges a fraction higher to 41.25p as it makes a profits breakthrough in the final quarter of 2014. The £48 million company still faces a loss for the 2014 full year.