The UK’s major stocks started strongly on Wednesday as the nation starts its Moderna vaccine rollout, the third approved for Brits, reigniting reopening optimism among investors.

With the UK’s lockdown set for another round of easing next Monday, businesses are gearing up for a resumption of trading that saw a flash PMI reading surge last month. Later today investors will get an idea of the state of the services sector with monthly purchasing managers’ data expected.

Aside from the UK services PMI, investors will also be eyeing the latest set of minutes from the Federal Reserve to discern any more detail about the US central bank’s approach to possible interest rate rises and economic forecasts for the coming years.

The benchmark FTSE 100 jumped more than 0.8% to 6,880.02 in early deals despite a sluggish session for Wall Street overnight. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 0.29% lower at 33,430 while the S&P 500 dropped 0.1% to 4,073. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 0.05% to 13,698.

The picture was more mixed in Asia this morning, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 rising 0.13% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.8%.

On currency markets, the pound was up 0.01% against the dollar at $1.382, although the services data and Fed minutes later today could provide some movement catalysts.

DEBT PILE DOWN

On the market, BP (BP.) led the blue-chip index higher with a 3% gain at 309p after its latest results revealed it was cutting its debt pile at a faster than forecast rate.

Retail landlord Land Securities (LAND) and housebuilders Persimmon (PSN) and Taylor Wimpey (TW.) were also firm as Britons prepared to return to the shopping malls and accelerate new home purchases.

Legal wrangling with Fox Corp over a disputed stake in FanDuel put pressure on gaming group Flutter Entertainment (FLTR), which headed the FTSE loser board with a 1.6% decline at £154.50.

Food delivery platform Deliveroo (ROO) shrugged off a strike threat by its riders and drivers over pay and conditions, as restrictions on trading its shares came to an end, giving retail investors their first chance to trade.

After its flop flotation last week, which saw its shares slump in conditional trading from the 390p offer price, retail investors might have taken the opportunity to cut losses and sell but that has not happened. Deliveroo stock gained nearly 4% to 289.95p.

Oil company Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) gained 1% to £14.408, even as it said a winter storm in Texas would wipe up to $200 million from its adjusted first-quarter earnings.

MORE CANCELLED CRUISES

Cruise operator Carnival (CCL) rose 2.3% to £17.4534, despite cancelling additional cruises and extending current suspensions of all operations from US ports through June.

Retirement services business Saga (SAGA), also a large cruise operator, jumped more than 12% to 391.2p despite an 84% drop in Covid-impacted profits. Investors remain hopeful of travel operations getting going again later this year and have been reassured by September’s £150 million funding call.

Pub owner Marston’s (MARS) gained 1.7% to 100.94p after it gave reopening guidance, including for around 70%, or about 700, of its managed and franchised pubs in England with outdoor spaces to reopen on or around 12 April.

Marston’s also confirmed that it had secured financial covenant waivers to its bank, private placement and securitised facilities for the financial periods up to and including 1 January 2022.

Food packing business Hilton Food (HFG) climbed 2% to £11.42, having hiked its dividend after reporting that annual profit that grew by quarter amid volume growth in Australia.

Hilton declared a final dividend of 19p per share, bringing total dividends for 2020 to 26p, up 22% year-on-year.

Chemicals company Croda (CRDA) edged up 4p to £64.16 on news its fragrances and flavours subsidiary, Iberchem, had agreed to acquire Parfex, a fine fragrance business based in Grasse, France, for €45 million.

Equipment rental group Vp (VP.) added 1.4% to 872.21p after it announced that its revenues recovered to 95% of pre-Covid levels since its interim results were issued on 7 December.

Restaurant owner Tasty (TAST:AIM) tumbled 12.5% to 5.25p, having posted a deeper annual loss after Covid-19 restrictions almost halved sales.

Tasty’s pre-tax losses for the year through 27 December amounted to £12.6 million, compared to losses of £0.27 million year-on-year, as revenue dropped 46% to £24.2 million.

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Issue Date: 07 Apr 2021