UK stocks steadied somewhat in late morning trading after sliding at the open as retail sales tanked in April and China proposed a new security law in Hong Kong that inflamed trade tensions with the US. At midday the benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 57 points or 0.95% to 5,958, following a 5% drop on the Hang Seng index in Asia. UK retail sales plunged a record 18.1% by volume in April, according to the Office for National Statistics, even worse than expectations. Textile, clothing and footwear sales fell over 50% as all 'non-essential' stores were shut. Insurance firm Prudential, which has large exposure to Asia, fell 6.9% to £10.38 while banking giant HSBC which generates more than half its earnings in Hong Kong fell 3.8% to 383p. Water utility United Utilities slipped 4.8% to 877p as it booked a 71% fall in annual profit, weighed down by charges related to the Covid-19 crisis. The company lifted its dividend 3% for the year to 42.6p per share, including a final payout of 28.4p, but said its dividend for the current financial year was under review. The negative sentiment spilled over to rival utility Severn Trent which dropped 4.6%, despite having confirmed its dividend policy earlier this week. Bucking the gloom, high-fashion retailer Burberry was one of the top FTSE gainers up 3.4% to £14.22, even as it cut its dividend as annual profits plunged. Burberry said it thought the impact from store closures related to lockdowns would near a peak this quarter. Also firmer was pharmaceutical company Hikma Pharmaceuticals, up 1.8% to £25.59, having received approval from US health authorities for a generic version of Amarin's drug used to treat cardiovascular disease. Telecom group Vodafone ticked up 0.2% to 129p on announcing that it had appointed outgoing Heineken chief executive Jean-Francois Van Boxmeer as its new chairman in waiting. MID- AND SMALL-CAP MOVERS Bus and train operator Go-Ahead Group dropped 11% to £10.96 after it cut its earnings forecast due to impact of the lockdown on passenger numbers. Measurement instrument group Spectris shed 4.7% to £25.62 as sales slumped 20% in the first four months of the year, partly owing to the Covid-19 crisis. Financial services company Close Brothers fell 2.8% to £10.50 having flagged a jump in bad loan provisions across its businesses due to the impact of Covid-19. Food court and publishing group Time Out slid 3.4% to 39.6p as it launched a discounted share issue to raise up to £49m to help it weather the Covid-19 storm. Media platform Future jumped 7.5% to £11.74 after it reported a surge in profit as the Covid-19 lockdowns triggered an acceleration in online user growth. Surveillance systems group Synectics jumped 12% to 120p on announcing that it had won two multi-year contracts with existing customers, including bus firm Stagecoach and a casino company.
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