The UK’s leading shares rose in early trading on Friday, putting the FTSE 100 index on track to end the first week of 2021 with gains of more than 6% as investors bet on a swift economic recovery.

The benchmark FTSE 100 gained more than 0.2% to 6,873.56, led by housebuilders, consumer and energy stocks, following a firm opening for major market across Europe and on Wall Street.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 gained 0.9% to 21,195.61 as data showed Britain's job market strengthened for the first time in three months in December.

Overnight, the S&P 500 rallied 1.5% as calm returned to Washington after the Trump protests on the Capitol. The tech-heavy Nasdaq enjoyed a stonking surge on fresh stimulus hopes, closing above 13,000 for the first time ever after posting a 2.5% jump.

BARRATT’S DIVI BOOST

Housebuilder Barratt Developments (BDEV) surged on plans to resume dividend payouts next month. The UK's biggest homebuilder surged 3.5% to top the FTSE 100 leaderboard, as it also posted a rise in forward six-month sales.

Barratt Shares rallied 3.7% on Friday to 714.4p, their highest since before the pandemic.

Mining group Fresnillo (FRES) led the FTSE loser board, down around 3% at £12.105.

Marks & Spencer (MKS) reported another big fall in sales of clothing and homewares in the three months leading up to Christmas, as restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus hit demand and closed stores.

M&S, one of the best-known names in British retail, said revenue in its clothing and home division slumped 25.1% in the 13 weeks to Boxing Day, its fiscal third quarter, having fallen 21.3% in the previous quarter.

M&S was struggling to reinvent itself after decades of failed attempts even before the pandemic hit.

M&S saw its share price fall 2% in early trade to 138.5p.

Pets at Home (PETS) has raised its profit expectations following a strong third quarter. It said it expects full-year underlying pre-tax profit, including the previously announced repayment of business rates relief of £28.9 million, to be at least £77 million in a third quarter trading update.

Its share price jumped more than 7% to 447.8p, heading the FTSE 250 list of stocks.

British pub operator Marston’s (MARS) said it expects pubs to be closed at least until March as part of the national lockdown imposed earlier this week, with some curbs to remain even after businesses are allowed to reopen.

Pubs, restaurants and other leisure businesses have been battered by coronavirus-induced curbs, and their prospects were further hammered as the UK announced its third national lockdown earlier this week to counter rising Covid-19 cases involving a new coronavirus variant.

Marston’s saw its stock nudge 0.4% up at 74.8p.

BEST OF THE REST WRAP

Rentokil Initial (RTO) said it has acquired Tampa-based pest control company Environmental Pest Service. The company said that for the full year ending 31 December 2020, it had acquired 23 new businesses with annualised revenues of over £150 million, for a cash spend of £180 million.

The shares rose 2.5% to 544.6p.

Reach (RCH), the owner of the Daily Mirror and Daily Express newspapers, soared 25% to 221p after it said it expects profits to beat market expectation after a surge in online revenue.

The company said it expects underlying operating profit for 2020 to be ahead of market expectations, in the range of £130 million to £135 million, following a record digital revenue performance. Online revenue jumped 24.9% in the fourth quarter, up from 13.4% growth in the third.

Reach said it had hit five million online customer registrations, but print circulation continues to decline, falling 11.7% in the fourth quarter.

Reach shares were changing hands at below 56p as recently as the end of September 2020.

Components and solutions company Essentra (ESNT) rose 3% to 328p as it said it had seen improved performance in the final quarter of its fiscal year and expected to deliver full-year operating profit in line with market expectations.

Market consensus for operating profit was in the range of £59 million to £63 million.

Integrated shipping services provider Clarkson (CKN) rallied 3.3% to £21.88 after it said expected full-year profit to be ahead of market expectations and in the range of £42 million to £45 million.

Real estate group Harworth (HWG) nudged 0.5% up to 105.5p after confirming that it had sold its Bilsthorpe business park in Nottinghamshire for £4.6 million in two separate transactions.

Gasification technology company Eqtec (EQT:AIM) said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece-based Nobilis Pro Energy to develop the latter's existing pipeline of opportunities in Thessalia and Central Greece.

But the stock dipped almost 1% to 2.28p with investors wary of energy-related investments.

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Issue Date: 08 Jan 2021