UK markets were lower on Thursday as a batch of blue-chip firms traded ex-dividend, while National Express slumped after reporting a pre-tax loss for the first half of the year. Elsewhere in the world, the number of coronavirus deaths in India has topped 47,000, making it the fourth worst country globally, while New Zealand has recorded another 13 new infections, forcing Auckland into lockdown. At 11.40, the FTSE 100 was down 0.85% or 53.2 points lower at 6,226.94, while the FTSE 250 was off 0.25% at 18,044. Travel company TUI travelled down 5.1% to 349p on the news that group revenue fell 98% to €75m as its business came to a standstill in the third quarter. It reported that while hotel volumes remain significantly lower than usual summer levels, there were 'encouraging signs' of customer demand, with average occupancy of 23% this summer. Retirement products provider Just Group soared 12% higher to 57p after saying it expected 'significantly higher' sales in the second half of the year, as it reported that first-half profit more than doubled driven by investment and economic profits owing to the fall in interest rates. National Express decelerated 11.9% to 155p after the bus and train company saw falls in revenue and posted an underlying pre-tax loss as Covid-19 caused passenger demand to plunge 80% in the first half of 2020. The company said while there were 'encouraging early signs of demand' as services gradually restarted, activity remained at 'suppressed levels'. GVC cheapened 3.4p to 782p as it announced strong online gaming revenue had partly offset weakness in retail, helping it swing to a first-half profit. The sports betting company reported an underlying pre-tax profit of £24.8m compared with a loss of £12.3m, while revenue fell 10% to $1.58bn in the six months ended 30 June 2020. Croda declined 10p to £60.08 on the news the chemical company has now completed the acquisition of Avanti Polar Lipids, following approval from the US regulatory authorities. Luxury goods retailer Watches of Switzerland ticked up 18.5% to 310.5p as it shrugged off the impact of the pandemic to report record sales for the year to 26 April 2020 and said trading in the first quarter of its 2021 financial year has exceeded expectations in the UK and US. Helios Towers softened 2.8% to 172.8p as pre-tax losses widened in the six months to 30 June 2020 to $83m from $18.7m, while revenue rose 7% to $204.0m, boosted by continued growth in the number of sites and tenancies across the group.
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