UK stocks continued their bright start in early afternoon trading on Thursday as investors looked beyond rising diplomatic tensions between the US and China.

Chinese authorities called Washington’s order to close its consulate in Houston, Texas ‘political provocation’ after China had been accused by US officials of the widespread stealing of intellectual property.

Despite being one of the most significant developments in the ongoing political battle of wills between the world’s two largest economies, investors remained in positive mood, choosing to focus on some pleasing corporate results and trading updates.

The benchmark FTSE 100 added to its opening 0.2% gains to move 0.5% higher to 6,237.78 by midday, matching the advance seen across other European stock markets.

But it was a different story in Asia with China’s Shanghai Composite down 0.2% and the Nikkei 225 in Japan down 0.6%. However, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed 0.8% to the good.

Gold continued its upward march with the safe haven asset shifting 1.5% up to $1,851 per ounce. But oil lost earlier momentum, with Brent crude oil futures slipping 0.2% to $44.18 per barrel.

UNILEVER JUMPS AS IT BEATS FORECASTS

In company news, consumer goods giant Unilever (ULVR) was the biggest FTSE riser, jumping 8% to £46.78, after it beat sales forecasts. Analysts had expected the FTSE 100 stalwart to report a 4.3% drop in second quarter underlying sales. However, in its half year results the firm revealed Q2 sales remained resilient, dipping just 0.3%.

Overall underlying sales growth reduced 0.1% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period the previous year, with the 0.3% drop in sales offset by 0.2% in price growth. Turnover fell 1.6% to €25.7 billion, though underlying earnings per share gained 6.4% to €1.25.

Enterprise software supplier Sage (SGE) charged nearly 5% higher to 739.4p after it reported recurring revenue for the first nine months of the year increased by 9%, driven by growth in software subscription of 22.6%, boosting total group revenue during the period by 4.1% to £1.39 billion.

In a trading update for the nine months to 30 June, Sage announced that recurring revenue grew to £1.24 billion, driven mainly by North America and Northern Europe.

Software subscription growth reached £885 million, up from £722 million in the prior year, as Sage said it had continued to focus on migrating existing customers and attracting new customers to Sage Business Cloud.

RELX HIT BY EXHIBITIONS LOSS

Scientific information provider Relx (RELX) was Thursday’s biggest FTSE 100 loser – outside of the ex-dividend SSE and Pennon – slumping 3.6% to £17.005 after reporting lower revenue and operating profit as its exhibitions business was ‘significantly impacted’ by Covid-19 and moved to a loss in the first half.

In its interim results for the six months to 30 June, the company reported revenue of £3.5 billion, down 10%.

Relx said its exhibitions business, which accounted for 16% of revenue and 13% of adjusted operating profit in 2019, was ‘significantly impacted’ by Covid-19 in the first half of 2020, with revenue of £201 million, down from £684 million in the prior year.

Food and beverage ingredients supplier Tate & Lyle (TATE) lost some of its earlier momentum through late morning but remained more than 2% to the good at 667p as it reported higher revenue in the three months to 30 June, boosted by growth in new products revenue of 9%, while volume was hit by the impact of lockdowns on out-of-home consumption.

In a trading statement, the company reported that revenue was up 1% to £232 million, as it benefitted from good price and mix management and new products revenue.

Chemicals company Johnson Matthey (JMAT) pared earlier losses but remained 0.1% off at £22.59 after it warned performance would be second-half weighted as visibility on demand remained limited.

In a trading update the company said first-half results were ‘materially’ below last year, largely due to weaker activity in its clean air division. Looking forward, Johnson Matthey anticipated July sales to be down about 20%, with improvement through the remainder of the second quarter.

OTHER COMPANY NEWS

Shares in FTSE 250 gold miner Petropavlovsk (POG) soared more than 20% to 37.68p after it revealed big jumps in half year production and sales. The bumper results came despite an ongoing boardroom spat.

Fellow chemicals company Croda (CRDA) nudged 0.6% lower to £55.82 after warning of limited visibility and reporting a fall in first-half profit and lower revenue amid a slowdown in demand.

Heat treatments supplier Bodycote (BOY) rose 1.2% to 605p despite after it swung to a loss in the first half of the year as performance was ‘significantly’ impacted by the pandemic related downturn.

Mining group Polymetal International (POLY) gained 2.5% to £17.49 as it said revenue for the second quarter increased by 30% year on year to reach $641 million on the back of higher gold prices and sales volumes, as it also reported no interruptions or delays to operations and projects.

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Issue Date: 23 Jul 2020