UK stocks rose on Wednesday as concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant continued to cool amid early signs that it could cause milder symptoms.

By lunchtime, the FTSE 100 was up 0.38% at 7367.82 and the mid-cap FTSE 250 traded 0.35% higher at 23,319.28.

The blue chip benchmark built on its gains of recent days as fears about the new variant waxed and waned amid mixed news on vaccines and the potential for new UK restrictions.

Stocks pressed ahead despite gigantic Chinese property developer Evergrande being on the verge of collapse.

A few months ago, Evergrande’s failure to make bond repayments spooked global markets and led to speculation of a potential crisis in China’s property and financial system. Now it seems as if markets have just accepted that Evergrande could collapse and there is no panic.

MARKET MOVERS

Shares in housebuilder Berkeley (BKG) rallied to the top of the FTSE 100 leader board with a rise of 3.8% to £48.12 after the firm raised its profit outlook for the next three years on a substantial increase in home sales.

For the six months ended 31 October, pre-tax profit rose by 26% to £290.7 million year-on-year as revenue increased 36.3% to £1.22 billon. Revenue was boosted by a rise in sales to 1,828 homes, up from 1,104, at an average selling price of £647,000, down from £799,000.

Travel company TUI (TUI) revealed that winter capacity is ‘likely’ to be reduced to the bottom end of the 60-80% range due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The group has succeeded in reducing fourth quarter losses after an easing of pandemic restrictions boosted sales. Revenue jumped to €3.37 billion, up from €1.23 billion, while underlying operating losses narrowed substantially to €97 million.

Pre-tax losses for the three months through September amounted to €71 million, compared to year-on-year losses of €836 million. Shares fell by 4.8% to 207p.

Shares in fantasy games and miniatures retailer Games Workshop (GAW) dropped 1.2% to £96.45 after the company said higher stock delivery costs, staff salary hikes and unfavorable foreign exchange rates impacted first half profit.

Management have built a reputation for under-promising and over-delivering, but it was always going to be tough to beat strong comparable numbers from 2020. Higher freight costs have also been widespread for much of this year.

Fund manager Man Group (EMG) jumped 5.5% to 227.6p after announcing detailed plans to buy back shares up to a value of $250 million. The share buyback programme will run from 8 December 2021 through to 7 December 2022.

Travel food outlet operator SSP (SSPG) ticked up 1.2% to 236p as the company revealed it generated free cash flow in the second half of its financial year running to 30 September.

The company, which operates the Upper Crust and Ritazza franchises as well as running sites for third parties like Burger King and Starbucks in airports and train stations, reported revenue at the beginning of the current financial year was averaging around two thirds of 2019 levels.

SMALL CAP NEWS

Shares in fintech payments group Equals (EQLS:AIM) surged 10.3% higher to 69.5p after the group reported results that ‘significantly’ exceeded full-year expectations as a ‘material’ international payments transaction for a large corporate client bolstered growth.

For the period from 1 October 2021 to 6 December 2021, revenue rose 105% to £11.6 million year-on-year.

‘This robust trading performance of the group further underpins the board’s confidence in accelerating momentum and maintaining growth moving into the final days of 2021 and into FY-2022,’ the company said.

And fast-fashion brand Quiz (QUIZ:AIM) cheapened 2.2% to 18p despite reporting a first half sales rebound and a return to profitability at the underlying EBITDA level, as the return of social events boosted demand for its products.

However, Quiz also warned the emergence of the Omicron variant is a concern and the potential for Christmas and other social events to be disrupted or cancelled ‘would be expected to negatively impact short term demand’.

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Issue Date: 08 Dec 2021