UK stocks lost almost all of their gains in an afternoon trading session dominated by a weak start of Wall Street as profit takers moved in. US stocks turned lower as investors assessed data showing an unexpected rise in jobless claims versus a slate of solid earnings from the likes of Tesla and Twitter.
The S&P 500 Index looked set to halt a four-day advance, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell nearly 0.7%, with leafing names like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple all coming under selling pressure.
Rising diplomatic tensions between the US and China remain in the background after 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.
The benchmark FTSE 100 ended Thursday just 0.07% up at 6,211.44, having been 80-odd points higher earlier in the day.
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 0.3% to $44.14 per barrel.
UNILEVER JUMPS AS IT BEATS FORECASTS
In company news, consumer goods giant Unilever (ULVR) ended almost 8% at £46.71, 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 6.5% higher to 753.6p 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) closed Thursday 3.6% to £17.00 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, saw 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 1% to the good at 659.2p 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 0.2% off at £22.58 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.
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.