London shares continue to sink in early trade on Thursday as US interest rate hawks appear to hold the upper hand, spooking investors on both sides of the pond, and across Europe. The FTSE 100 index dips 33 points, or about 0.5%, to 6,369, although a number of FTSE 100 companies went ex-dividend, shaving 5.4 points off the benchmark and explaining some of the early losses.
Declines were heavier on Wall Street where major US indices posted heftier losses overnight, the Dow Jones and S&P 500 both slumping close on 1%. The sueeze is felt even harder on the Continent where France's CAC 40, the German DAX and Spain IBEX 35 drag on the Eurostoxx 50, down 40-odd points, or 1.1%, at 3,392.
In corporate news, British American Tobacco (BATS) slides 2.2% to £35.765 following reports that Australia’s Cancer Council of Victoria will fight a freedom of information request by the company to access information from classroom surveys about young people's attitudes towards smoking.
On the plus side, a batch of miners rally as selected commodity prices nudge higher, with Fresnillo (FRES) heading the Footsie leader board with a 2.5% gain to 664p, with Anglo American (AAL) and Randgold Resources (RRS) following closely behind.
Among the bigger movers, the small cap resources space is busy on Thursday with Sula Iron & Gold (SULA:AIM) leading the pack, down 26% to 0.63p, as it goes cap in hand to investors for £400,000 of fresh funding at a hefty near-30% discount to last night's 0.85p close.
Also in the wars is Trinity Exploration (TRIN:AIM) as it posts second quarter net production figures of 2,939 boepd, a big decline on the first quarter run rate. The company also spells out that it remains in talks with a number of parties regarding its strategic review and formal sales process, but the shares respond with a deep 19% fall to 3.57p.
Vast Resources (VAST:AIM) is also in demand thanks to confirmation of the commissioning of its CIL plant at the Pickstone-Peerless Gold Mine. This is the next important milestone on its way to matching its ambition to become a cash generative mining company. The shares jumps 10% to 1.38p.
Office hire company Regus (RGU) slumps 5.8% to 258p on a broker downgrade from Investec, which flags recent share price strength as a reason to move from ‘buy’ to ‘hold’. ‘We expect the group’s interim update on 25 August will serve to highlight the continued strength of underlying trading and the benefits of its significant operational leverage’, analyst Andrew Gibb writes.
Elsewhere, Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casino owner Rank (RNK) gains 3.2% to 258p on a 19% rise in adjusted pre-tax profit to £74.1 million in the year ended 30 June, with group revenue 4% higher at £738.3 million. This is driven by strong growth in its digital division, where revenue is up 21% and operating profit is 14% higher despite the introduction of Remote Gaming Duty on 1 December. The dividend is up 24% year-on-year to 5.6p per share.
Ladbrokes (LAD) gains 2% to 107.4p after releasing the third quarter results of Gala Coral, the UK betting company that Ladbrokes is merging with. Gala's retail EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) is down 2% to £34.9 million, but adjusting for the impact of the increased Machines Games Duty, high stakes restrictions and the World Cup, underlying EBITDA is up 46% to £10.9 million. Online EBITDA is up 28% to £17.1 million.
Back office optimising platform supplier EG Solutions (EGS:AIM) rallies around 3% to 69p as it confirms that it remains on track to meet full year targets. A solid showing by the running Shares Play of the Week at the interim stage and decent visibility into the second half put the company on track for £8.8 million of revenues expected by the market this year to 31 Jan 2016, after which analysts anticipate the company breaking back into the black.
There are contrasting fortunes for the two main UK shale stories on the stock market today after yesterday's licence awards. Egdon Resources (EDR:AIM), offered seven new blocks in the 14th onshore round, falls 3.1% to 13.2p while IGas Energy (IGAS:AIM), which also snaffled seven blocks in the process, is up 1.8% to 28p.
An upbeat outlook sees closed life fund buyer and manager Phoenix (PHNX) advance 1.3% to 895.5p. This comes despite pre-tax profits slumping 83% to £48 million year-on-year on lower investment returns. Former ITV (ITV) finance director Henry Staunton is the FTSE 250 member’s new chairman.
Disappointing clinical trial results send drug developer Vernalis (VER:AIM) 3.8% lower to 77.6p. V158866 missed its phase II target to reduce pain caused by spinal cord injuries. The company has ended its investment in the treatment and is looking for a partner to fund further development.
Stationer-to-bookseller WH Smith (SMWH) cheapens 16p to £15.54, as investors use a positive pre-close update to book profits following a strong run. The retailer flags full-year results 'slightly ahead' of consensus estimates, driven by a strong second half from the expanding travel division.