Equity markets retreated across Europe and parts of Asia on Thursday as investors remained cautious ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s annual get-together on Friday where all eyes will be on guidance for when economic stimulus will be tapered. The ongoing spread of Covid infections also continues to act as a dark cloud for investors.

The FTSE 100 index fell 0.7% to 7,102, Germany’s Dax dropped 0.8% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slumped 1.5%.

In early trading, only nine stocks on the FTSE 100 were in positive territory. Leading the pack was construction group CRH (CRH), up 1.4% to £38.24 after saying the outlook for its market was improving. The company reported that second half earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation would be ahead of its record prior year. Sales in the first half were 15% ahead year-on-year and margins improved across all its divisions.

‘CRH has delivered an impressive first-half result with operating profit and margins up across all three divisions,’ said analysts at Irish broker Davy. ‘That owes much to management’s repositioning of the business to focus on higher-growth markets, publicly funded construction and integrated building solutions.’

Banks, tobacco and mining stocks were among the biggest detractors on the FTSE. Diageo (DGE) fell 1.8% as it traded without the right to the next dividend payment.

British Land (BLND) gave a strategic update, saying it had delivered £350 million of capital activity, including the purchase of a technology park in Cambridge and a car park in London, as well as selling a leisure centre also in London. The shares nudged up 0.2% to 530p.

In the resources sector, silver and gold miner Polymetal (POLY) reported half year results which included a 12% increase in revenue to $1.27 billion, helped by higher metal prices.

However, the company said that given the continuing macroeconomic pressures, materials and wage inflation, as well as various scope changes to projects, its full year capex guidance would move from $560 million to a range of $675 million to $725 million. Its shares fell 1.8% to £14.95.

Hays (HAS) advanced 0.6% to 158p after it managed to squeeze out a small profit in what was a very disruptive year for trying to place people into jobs. The recruitment consultant grew pre-tax profit by 2% to £88.1 million and said it would resume dividends.

Chief executive Alistair Cox said the new financial year had started well, with more consultants hired to capitalise on greater market activity. He added: ‘We now see a clear route back to, and then exceeding, pre-pandemic levels of profit, faster than we envisaged even six months ago.’

Gaming group Rank (RNK) said its chief financial officer Bill Floydd would leave at the end of the year to assume the same role at Watches of Switzerland (WOS). Rank will now look for a replacement.

Automotive-to-environmental engineer Ricardo (RCDO) will also see a change in its boardroom. Chief executive Dave Shemmans is stepping down at the end of September and will be replaced by Graham Ritchie who joins from testing group Intertek (ITRK) where he ran operations in Europe and was previously financial controller.

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Issue Date: 26 Aug 2021