UK stocks remained flat at midday as investors shuffle the deck by rotating in and out of sectors ahead of the next big move for the broader market. Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States today, with US markets rising overnight and European equities on the front foot today.

At 12pm, the benchmark FTSE 100 had nudged 0.07% lower at 6,708.11 with ongoing Covid-19 cases continuing to stoke fears that Britain’s third nationwide lockdown won’t be ending any time soon.

Oil prices rose thanks to the weaker dollar and expectations that the incoming administration across the pond will deliver massive stimulus spending that should lift fuel demand and draw down crude stocks.

FTSE 100 MOVERS

In corporate news, luxury goods brand Burberry (BRBY) lost earlier gains but stayed 0.3% ahead at £17.615 despite reporting a 9% decline in third quarter retail like-for-like sales.

Investors focused on strong double digit growth in mainland China as well as a robust hike in full price sales driven by new, younger customers and repeat customers.

Educational publisher and services group Pearson (PSON) topped the blue-chip leaderboard, jumping nearly 7% to 724.4p even as it forecast a substantial drop in annual earnings as the pandemic kept many students away from classes, hurting sales.

Electrical goods retailer Dixons Carphone (DC.) slipped 3% lower to 119.38p, despite reporting an 11% leap in like-for-like electricals revenue over the peak Christmas period as strong momentum in online sales helped offset the impact of shuttered stores owing to the pandemic.

Alex Baldock-bossed Dixons Carphone also assured it expects to deliver full year profits in line with market expectations.

WH SMITH DELIVERS

Also in demand was WH Smith (SMWH), which rallied 10% £17.05, on news of a better than anticipated Christmas delivered in spite of evolving Covid restrictions.

The retailer’s high street business delivered a better than expected Christmas with sales in December at 92% of 2019 levels and the online businesses continuing to serve up ‘significant year on year growth’, though December sales in the hard-pressed travel business came in at just 36% of 2019 levels.

Elsewhere, specialised products and services supplier Diploma (DPLM) rose 3% to £22 on news of a 24% surge in first quarter revenue driven by an ‘excellent’ contribution from the recently acquired Windy City Wire business.

Workspace rental group IWG (IWG) cheapened 2.6% to 326.2p after the company warned its anticipated recovery in 2021 would be delayed by the pandemic and related lockdowns.

MINING MOVERS

In the mining sector, BHP (BHP) firmed 2% to £21.60 after it reported a 3% rise in fourth quarter iron ore output on a year-on-year basis, plus higher production of copper, offset by lower oil and gas output.

Copper miner Antofagasta (ANTO) advanced 0.3% to £15.16 as it said it had met full year production guidance, while maintaining its output guidance for 2021.

And Hochschild Mining (HOC) was marked up 6% to 205.2p as it forecast increased production for 2021 after reporting full year production at the higher end of its revised forecasts.

‘Our mines have delivered a successful fourth quarter despite continuing disruption from the pandemic and therefore I am pleased to announce that we have achieved our revised production targets for the year’, enthused chief executive Ignacio Bustamante.

‘Furthermore, our balance sheet is now in a net cash position following another period of substantial free cash flow generation driven by our strong operational performance and ongoing favourable precious metal prices.’

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Issue Date: 20 Jan 2021