UK stocks hit a two-month high in early trading Wednesday as investors react to upbeat services data from China and continued to speculate about stimulus measures in Europe. The FTSE 100 is up 64 points at 6,894, also boosted by an upbeat statement from equipment rental firm Ashtead (AHT) and rumours about a bid for Vodafone (VOD). The UK mobile network group is thought to be on the radar of Japanese telecom's giant Softbank (4726:T). Vodafone is up 2% at 213.1p in early trade.

Equipment rental provider Ashtead reports first quarter revenues up 22% at £417.7 million in the three months to end-July. Profit before tax increases 33% to £120.4 million, excluding non-cash amortisation charges. Jefferies analyst Justin Jordan, who has a Buy rating on the stock, upgrades his full year earnings per share (EPS) forecasts by 4% to 56.1p on better than expected performance at Sunbelt, Ashtead’s US operation. The shares are trading up 3% at £10.16.

Broker Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) reports record revenue, profit and assets under administration for the year ended 30 June, but the market remains unimpressed. Investors are concerned about pressure on margins resulting from regulatory initiatives like the Retail Distribution Review (RDR), according to Liberum analyst Justin Bates. The shares slide 3.4% to £11.00, while Charles Stanley (CAY) is similarly down, off 3.6% at 337.25p.

A deal to acquire a new asset in Wyoming sparks a 14.3% jump to 0.32p for US oil and gas explorer Nostra Terra (NTOG:AIM). Picked up for $1.2 million from Ward Petroleum, the White Buffalo project is estimated to contain up to 13 million barrels of oil and the company says it fits the criteria of a material development with established oil production not yet fully exploited by horizontal drilling.

A weakening contribution from its US foils business leads to a profit warning from foils, laminates and holographics specialist API (API:AIM) down 10.4% to 61.8p. The Stockport firm says interim and full year results for 2014 will both be below expectations and behind those reported last year.

A new SIMbox deal with Colombian authorities gets SimiGon (SIM:AIM) investors excited and pushes the shares more than 4% higher to 28.5p. The agreement will mean delivering a wide range of SIMbox development training courses and on-the-job training, although no financial details are made public, but this may be a catalyst after a sluggish past year for the shares.

Accelerating half-year revenue and profit margins give shares in IT testing business SQS (SQS:AIM) a 3.3% lift to 545p. The company is benefiting from increased offshore resources thanks to its Thinksoft acquisition earlier this year.

Fibre optic networks infrastructure supplier CityFibre (CFHL:AIM) has picked Aberdeen to be Scotland's first 'gigabit city' thanks to an anchor agreement with Internet For Business. Aberdeen accounts for 28% of Scotland’s GDP and 30 of Scotland’s top 100 companies are based in the coastal oil and gas hub. But the shares manage a lacklustre 0.5p increase to 68p with ambitious growth plans already factored in by the market.

Cash and carry operator Booker (BOK) cheapens 5.7% to 127.6p as Metro AG sells its 9% stake in the food wholesaler. Metro became a shareholder in May 2012 following Booker's acquisition of its UK cash and carry operations and formation of a strategic partnership which continues despite the share divestment. Shares outlined Booker's income-generating attractions in July.

West African focused palm oil producer DekelOil (DKL:AIM) cultivates a 1.7% gain at 1.5p following a positive update on operations at its 51%-owned palm oil project in Cote d'Ivoire. Having expanded its logistics operations around its first Ivory Coast project during the low harvesting season, DekelOil is set to ramp up crude palm oil (CPO) production at its low-cost mill during the upcoming high season and beyond. Shares explained the bullish outlook for DekelOil just a week ago.

Microcap security and surveillance systems supplier Petards (PEG:AIM) rallies 5.5% to 14.5p as half year figures please investors. Revenue for the six months to end June double to £7.2 million, powering a bounce back into the black for profits.

Issue Date: 03 Sep 2014