Leading UK shares fell throughout morning trading on Friday as a jump in retail sales lifted the pound and hurt export-orientated companies.

The benchmark FTSE 100 lost 0.47% to 6,905 by lunchtime with large dollar-earning exporters like consumer staples companies Unilever (ULVR), Diageo (DGE) and British American Tobacco (BATS) slipping by up to 1% as the pound strengthened against the dollar.

Heavyweight oil majors BP (BP.) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) also fell and were among the biggest drags to the index.

It comes as strong retail sales numbers for March took everyone by surprise, jumping 5.4% after the 2.2% surge in February. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a much smaller month-on-month increase of 1.5%. For more on today’s retail sales numbers, click here.

FIRSTGROUP EXITS US

In company news, UK transport operator FirstGroup (FGP) gained 8.2% to 92.1p as it agreed to sell its US school bus business for $4.6 billion, including debt, to Swedish private equity firm EQT Infrastructure.

The company’s plans to focus on its bus and rail operations in the UK were wildly welcomed by investors who sent the stock soaring, jumping nearly 20% early on before gains eased back somewhat. The funds will be used to pay down debt.

Clinical diagnostics company Novacyt (NCYT:AIM) gained 16.2% to 430.5p after the company provided an update on its near-term Covid-19 research and development and UK operations.

It confirmed its subsidiaries Primerdesign and Microgen Bioproducts were included in the UK’s National Microbiology Framework for Diagnostic Goods and Services published by Public Health England on 19 April.

This means its full range of clinical products, including tests within its accredited portfolio, can be purchased by Public Health England and NHS hospitals without the need for direct contracts. It also means there is no guarantee of any revenues.

Property firm Workspace (WKP) shed 4% to 802p after announcing that non-executive director Maria Moloney will step down from the board after nine years. Her departure from the real estate investment trust will be effective from the date of the annual general meeting on 22 July.

Fulham Shore (FUL:AIM) advanced 7.3% to 17.17p after announcing that 70 of its 72 Franco Manca and The Real Greek restaurants were open for business. Group sales in the week ended Sunday April 18 were described as ‘very encouraging’ after showing performance up on the previous week and also better than in the same week in 2019.

AROUND THE MARKETS WRAP

Podcasts firm Audioboom (BOOM:AIM) jumped 7.6% to 710p after the company said it expected annual revenue to ‘significantly’ top market expectations as strong sales momentum continued.

Oil and gas exploration company Baron Oil (BOIL:AIM) surged 26.1% to 0.12p after it said it had completed its earn-in for an increased stake in the Chuditch discovery and prospects.

Baron increased its shareholding in SundaGas from 33.33% to 85%, and thereby increased its indirect stake in the TL-SO-19-16 PSC, the Chuditch project, offshore Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste from 25% to 63.75%.

Real Estate company LondonMetric Property (LMP) dipped 0.8% 225.9p after selling two assets let to M&S and Wickes in Derby for a combined consideration of £11.1 million at a blended NIY of 6.0% and a 7% surplus to the last reported book value.

Warren Buffett-styled investment trust Fidelity Special Values (FSV) slipped back 0.2% to 281.86[ after reporting a rise in total returns that was ‘significantly’ ahead of its benchmark in the first half of the year thanks to a jump in value stocks.

For six month period to 28 February 2021, net asset value total return of 24.3% and a share price total return of 36.5%, compared to a total return of 12.0% for the FTSE All-Share Index, the company's benchmark index.

Commercial property investment firm UK Commercial Property REIT (UKCM) edged 0.3% lower to 75.9p after reporting a net loss for the year of £10.3 million – a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Issue Date: 23 Apr 2021