London markets open sharply lower in early trade on Thursday matching the steep sell-off on Wall Street overnight and fuelled by escalating violence in Yemen. In London, financial stocks bare the brunt of investor concerns, with the blue-chip FTSE 100 index losing more than 85 points, or 1.2%, to 6,904.
A spike in oil prices - with European benchmark Brent up 3.6% to $58.50 per barrel - follows news of Saudi Arabian air strikes aimed at rebel fighters in Yemen and feeds into strong gains across the sector Among the notable risers are BG (BG.), up 1.6% to 910.2p, EnQuest (ENQ), ahead 4% to 39.5p, and oil services provider Petrofac (PFC), rising 2.8% to £10.16.
UK stock market operator London Stock Exchange (LSE) sells off 8.6% to £23.20, heading the Footsie loser board, as Borse Dubai looks to dispose of its 17.4% stake. The chunky shareholding, worth £1.4 billion at the current price, is being sold with the help of a consortium of investment banks, according to media reports.
UK chip designs champion ARM (ARM) falls 4.8% to £10.73 as investors take substantial profits off the table, while financials are also weak. Schroders (SDRC) falls 3% to £24.94, Hargreaves Lansdwon (HL.) is 2.7% off at £11.75, and Prudential (PRU) loses 2.5% to £16.98.
Branded fashion retailer SuperGroup (SGP) struts 7.5% higher to £10.03 on a well-received strategy update from new CEO Euan Sutherland, outlining plans to generate global growth. This includes news the Superdry brand owner has bought out its US licence and will shortly start paying dividends, as well as a premium clothing line collaboration with actor Idris Elba.
Among the bigger movers, microcap Arcontech (ARC:AIM) crashes 29% to 0.11p as investors ignore a swing into profit at the half-year stage and concentrate on a profit warning as a major customer terminates a contract early.
Wellhead technology specialist Plexus (POS:AIM) gains 19% to 240.5p as it enters a framework agreement with large Chinese oil services provider Jereh (002353:SHE) for a licensing deal which would enable the latter to manufacture and sell Plexus' patented wellhead equipment in China and Asia.
Oilex (OEX:AIM), up 15.8% to 2.75p, says it is pleased with construction progress at Cambay-73,which should enable the Joint Venture to commence production during May 2015. Overall progress of the project is 77% complete.
Elsewhere, budget airline Easyjet (EZJ) slides despite a first-half update in which the airline upgraded guidance for the first half. The company now anticipates a £20 million favourable impact from currency movements, compared with £10 million previously, yet the shares reverse 4% to £18.11 after a recent strong rally in the stock.
Window and door replacement play Safestyle UK (SFE:AIM) locks up a 4p gain at 177p on strong full-year results, showing a 73% surge in taxable profits to £16.4 million, as well as a positive current trading statement.
Investors dumping US biotechs on earnings concerns has sliced 5% off International Biotechnology Trust (IBT) value to 508.5p. Worldwide Healthcare Trust (WWH) has also been hit falling 4.8% to £18.20.
Drug company Redx Pharma (REDX:AIM) is to raise £15 million through floating on AIM tomorrow (27 Mar) after pricing its shares at 85p each. The company, to be worth £55.2 million on admission, will use to proceeds to develop its pipeline.
Reporting the best set of finals since 2007 was not enough to boost shares in heavy construction specialist Henry Boot (BHY). The stock falls 4.6% to 226p as investors take profits after the group reported a 54% increase in profit before tax to £28.3 million in the 12 months to the end of December. Earnings per share are up 88% to 16.2p and Henry Boot also raised its final dividend by 9.8% to 3.5p.
Elsewhere in the construction space, plastic pipe manufacturer Polypipe (PLP) slips 1.2% to 262.75p after an encouraging set of results as wider market uncertainty weighs on UK stocks. Posting a 9% rise in revenue in the 12 months to the end of December, the Doncaster-based £532 million cap is reporting strong demand from UK housebuilders, particularly from smaller developers and projects outside London and the South-East.