Shares were down sharply by Wednesday lunchtime, with the FTSE 100 shedding 103.57 points to 6,658.44 as yesterday's strong rebound was reversed on fears surrounding the impact of a slowdown in China. Investors fretted over news the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cut its 2013 growth forecast for the Asian economic powerhouse from 8% to 7.75% on the grounds of weak global demand.
Concerns over Chinese demand weighed on miners early on, with Antofagasta (ANTO), off 3% at 936.5p, Randgold (RRS), down 45p to £49, Evraz (EVR), 2.5% lower at 140.3p and Kazakhmys (KAZ) all in negative territory. Stocks going ex-dividend also littered the fallers list, among them Amec (AMEC), 30p lower at £10.29, Marks & Spencer (MKS), marked down 2.8% to 471.6p and Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), off 2.8% at 45p.
One of the day's big retail stories was news of major international expansion from Mike Ashley's Sports Direct (SPD), which is pushing on with its drive to mop up market share in Europe. The £3.1 billion cap sports retail powerhouse announced two European acquisitions, one in Austria and the other in the Baltics. It has paid €10.5 million (£9 million) for 51% of EAG, the number one sporting goods retailer in Austria behind the Ebyl and Sports Expert fascias and has also taken a 60% stake in Sportland International Group (SIG), which operates stores across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Despite the savvy strategic rationale behind these deals, Sports Direct's shares eased off 9p to 509p as investors took profits following a prolonged strong run.
Elsewhere, Russian-based oil producer Ruspetro (RPO) gushed up 9% to 42.3p after securing a debt restructuring deal. State-run Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, extended RusPetro’s $297.4 million loan by three years to April 2018, and agreed to waive interest payments this year, as well as in 2014, as long as the driller meets certain covenants.
Back in the retail sector, operationally-geared Topps Tiles (TPT) slipped back 2.8% to 65p as half-year figures revealed a 16% drop in profits to £4.7 million, which was slightly ahead of analysts' estimates with the help of cost-cutting. Investors focused on the tile specialist's current trading however, which showed like-for-like sales down 2.6% in the 8 weeks to 25 May and prompted broker Panmure Gordon to downgrade its full year profit forecast from £13.3 million to £12.5 million.
Banknote maker De La Rue (DLAR) dipped 13p to 973p, despite delivering better-than-expected 2% growth in taxable profits to £59.1 million for the year to 30 March and maintaining the dividend at 42.3p. Amid difficult currency markets and delayed orders, the £981 million cap's 8% sales decline to £484 million proved disappointing.
Defence and security group Cobham (COB) surrendered 5.3p at 282.4p. This decline came despite the £3.1 billion cap announcing an AUD $85 million five-year contract extension in Papua New Guinea for its Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) aviation services to transport workers to remote mines.
Brewin Dolphin (BRW) moved 5.5p or 2.5% higher to 225.3p as interims pleased with managed funds ending the period at £28.1 billion, up 9% on last year’s £25.7 billion. The private client wealth manager also unveiled a £40 million placing to fund future growth.
Managed data centres specialist Iomart (IOM:AIM) posted another set of excellent full year figures, showing attractive organic and acquisitions-fuelled growth. Hosting revenues rose 37%, 20% of which was organic, while margins are improving, a great combination. £8.3 million of free cash flow also implies scope for hefty dividend expansion over time. The shares edged off 2% to 243.5p, understandable perhaps given a 25%-odd 2013 run so far.
One-click mobile payments platform developer Bango (BGO:AIM) leapt nearly 8% to 199.5p on a trading update flagging doubled end user spend. In theory, this should mean doubled revenues from app stores of Facebook (FB.:NDQ), Google (GOOG:NDQ) and Research In Motion's (BB:TO) Blackberry. Yet the £91 million cap's comments were typically light on figures. Read Shares March feature on the company here.
Insurance claims outsourcer Quindell Portfolio (QPP:AIM) unveiled another new customer, announcing the signing of a three-year claims management deal with Honda UK, news which gave the shares a near-6% shove higher to 8.98p.
Cross-border automated payments specialist Earthport (EPO:AIM) jumped 6.5% to 20.5p thanks to a $10 million investment from global development investment group, and World Bank member, IFC. This comes just weeks after Shares flagged the company's growth potential (read here).
Rare coins dealer Noble Investments (NBL:AIM) unveiled in line numbers this morning with adjusted (for acquisition costs) operating profits of £1.1 million on sales of £8.1 million. The stock fell 0.7% in early trade to 220p.
Specialty chemicals group Scapa (SCPA:AIM) added 0.95% at 79.5p on news of a 34% increase in taxable profits to £12.7 million for the year to March, which Scapa closed armed with net cash of £7.6 million, 23% up year-on-year.
Minimally invasive surgery specialist Surgical Innovations (SUN:AIM) skipped 2.2% higher to 5.6p on news a US distributor has been appointed to sell products in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio over the next three years.
Neuro-diagnostic medical technology company Electrical Geodesics (EGI:AIM) was up 2.3% to 132.5p after signing a distribution agreement with Hitachi Medical Systems America. Under the agreement, EGI will distribute Hitachi’s ETG-4000 optical topography device, which specialises in the non-invasive investigation of blood flow in the brain, in Mexico, the US and Canada.