UK stocks nudge lower in early trade on Thursday responding to disappointing purchasing managers' index (PMI) data from both China and Europe. Market falls also reflect a number of large cap stocks going ex-dividend. The benchmark FTSE 100 loses 26 points, or close to 0.4%, to 7,002, just about keeping its head above the 7,000 mark.
Among the big corporate news stories on Thursday is the agreed $2.1 billion (£1.4 billion) takeover of UK set-top box maker Pace (PIC) by US telecommunications equipment manufacturer Arris (ARRS:NDQ). The deal, struck at 426.5p in cash and stock, represents a 28% premium to the closing price on Wednesday. The group also revealed strong trading.
A number of heavyweight stocks were providing a drag on the Footsie after going ex-dividend, including Aggreko (AGK), Antofagasta (ANTO), ARM (ARM), Barratt Development (BDEV), BG (BG.), Glencore (GLEN) and Unilever (ULVR).
Bookmaker William Hill (WMH) falls 3.5% to 359.2p on a 19% fall in operating profit driven by a £20 million hit from the Point of Consumption tax and increased rate of Machines Games Duty. Its Sportsbook gross win margin was 0.1 percentage points behind last year at 7% due to the largest ever loss-making week in January, the shortfall of which has yet to be made up. Read today's Shares web exclusive story.
Ladbrokes (LAD) falls a further 1.3% to 101.4p in early trading this morning.
Among the bigger movers, North Sea oil firm Trap Oil (TRAP:AIM) days look numbered in the wake of the oil price slump as it admits that in the absence of additional funding it has 'insufficient resources to continue operating beyond the short-term'. Reporting a pre-tax loss of £44.4 million for 2014 the company says it is in urgent discussions on funding alternatives and/or asset sales but shareholders are scrambling for the exit - the shares down 50% at 0.35p.
Russian hydrocarbons producer Urals Energy (UEN:AIM) gains 27.3% to 3.5p on an upbeat statement ahead of its extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in Cyprus - the company noting it has largely been compensated for the fall in the oil price by the reduction in the ruble exchange rate. The EGM is to approve delayed 2013 numbers which could not be put to the annual general meeting last year.
Fresh meat and food-to-go retailer Crawshaw (CRAW:AIM) cheapens 6.4% to 51p despite serving up strong full-year figures. News that like-for-like sales are down 4% in the opening 10 weeks of the current year, and that short term profits will be 'held in check for a while' due to rising costs, explain the negative share price reaction.
Electronics distributor Premier Farnell (PFL) gains as much as 7% in early trade before falling back to 194p, up 4%, on a broker upgrade from investment bank Credit Suisse. Analysts at the Zurich-based finance house say the stock’s dividend – which currently yields 5.6% – is relatively safe over the medium term. Premier is upgraded to ‘outperform’ from ‘neutral’ and is given a target price of 210p.
Defence specialist Meggitt (MGGT) advances 1.1% to 552p after the £4.4 billion cap's trading update assured investors that trading during the first quarter of 2015 was in line with expectations with the group achieving organic growth of 4% in the quarter.
Declining build rates of Airbus’ A330 aircraft and falling demand for gas jet engines sends aerospace and defence manufacturer Senior (SNR) down 5.7% to 325p. Favourable dollar exchange rate movements have offset the decline, the company says in a trading statement.
Video games retailer GAME Digital (GMD) gains 2.3% at 260.75p as broker Liberum upgrades its recommendation to 'buy' following a capital markets presentation (17 Apr) from the retailer, a running Play of the Week (a short sell position).