UK stocks posted modest gains in early trading on Wednesday after oil companies were boosted by a drop in US inventories, though investors remained wary of a surge in US Covid-19 cases. At 0822, the benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 7.65 points, or 0.1%, at 6,177.39. Shell and BP led gains, climbing 1.9% and 2.0%, respectively, to £13.11 and 313.4p. Supermarket group J Sainsbury rose 2.1% to 213.1p after its sales in the first quarter, excluding fuel, jumped 8.5% as households stocked up during Covid-19 lockdowns. Sainsbury's, however, said it still expected its annual profits to be flat, owing to increased costs associated with making its stores safer and hiring extra staff to meet demand. Falling demand for petrol would also hurt its bottom line. Travel hub convenience store group SSP dropped 3.6% to 247.84p on revealing that it could make up to 5,000 of its staff redundant due to the lingering impact of the Covid-19 crisis on demand for travel. Medical technology group Smith & Nephew gained 2.2% to £15.385, even as it said it expected its underlying revenue to sink by around 29% in the second quarter. On the positive side, Smith & Nephew said the revenue picture had improved as the quarter progressed, with declines of 47% in April, 27% in May and 12% in June. Aerospace and defence company Babcock International rose 3.9% to 322.3p on announcing that had appointed David Lockwood as chief executive. Lockwood was previously CEO of defence group Cobham. Component supplier to the defence and aerospace sectors Meggitt rose 2.0% to 300.3p after it sold its training systems unit to US private equity firm Pine Island Capital Partners for $146m. Infrastructure investor John Laing slumped 6.9% to 324.4p, having warned its net asset value for the first half was expected to show a single-digit decline, as investment activity stalled amid the pandemic. German business park investor Sirius Real Estate found 1.7% to 77.48p on announcing that it collected almost all of rent due in June following a relaxation of Covid-19 lockdowns. Sirius reiterated that it would pay a dividend of 1.8c per share for the second half of the financial year through March 2020, with the payout to be made on 20 August. Flooring retailer Topps Tiles rallied 5.9% to 47p despite its average weekly sales slumping 53% in the third quarter of its financial year. Topps Tiles said the subdued performance was nevertheless better than it had expected and that the depth of declines had improved by June. Subprime lender Provident Financial firmed 1.2% to 178.3p on announcing that the head of its consumer credit division, Chris Gillespie, was leaving to join pawnbroker H&T. Gillespie had been replaced, subject to regulatory approval, by Hamish Paton, who was briefly chief executive of Amigo between July and December last year.
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