The FTSE 100 closed Thursday’s session fractionally lower, off 0.06% at 7,585.01 points, though the FTSE 250 ended 0.27% higher at 22,714.98 as select travel and leisure names rallied, including EasyJet (EZJ), Trainline (TRN), TUI (TUI) and JD Wetherspoon (JDW).

The blue chip benchmark began on the front foot, boosted by miners reacting to news from China, but a drop in the oil price and a mixed bag of other updates dragged the headline index into negative territory by close of play, albeit but not by much.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) cheapened 1.8% to £16.37 after Unilever (ULVR) appeared to abandoned its pursuit of the pharmaceuticals giant’s majority-controlled consumer healthcare unit.

Marmite-to-Magnum ice cream maker Unilever, off 0.5% at £36.56, has said it won’t increase its offer for consumer healthcare unit above £50 billion.

CORPORATE NEWS

On a busy day for corporate reporting, Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF) fell 4.2% to £20.41 despite providing the market with some reassurance on the impact of the Omicron variant on the business and maintaining full year guidance.

Primark is entirely reliant on high street footfall as it sells all of its products in stores rather than online. Yet in the run up to Christmas restrictions were imposed across Europe and in England there was a lockdown effect of sorts.

Shares in assurance solutions provider Spirent Communications (SPT) sparked up 8.7% to 250.4p after announcing that it expected to deliver adjusted operating profit ‘slightly ahead’ of market expectations following a ‘strong’ performance in the final quarter of the year.

The company said it now expected to deliver an adjusted operating profit slightly ahead of market consensus of $116 million.

‘Strong order intake growth continued through to the end of the year, resulting in full year revenue growing by 10% (7% organically) to $576 million’, the company added.

Mr Kipling cake maker Premier Foods (PFD) raised its annual profit guidance following better-than-expected growth in the third quarter of the year.

Trading profit for this financial year was now expected to be at least £145 million and adjusted profit before tax at least £125 million, following the delivery of ‘three strong quarters of trading, and taking good momentum into the final quarter’, according to the company.

The upbeat guidance was supported by stronger sales in Q3, with sales up 11.3% on a two year basis.

The shares responded positively to the news rising 7.5% to 118.2p.

Gambling company Entain (ENT) edged 0.4% higher to £17.17 after it upgraded its outlook on profitability as revenue grew in the fourth quarter of the year, led by a boost from the reopening of the retail estate.

Clothing retailer Superdry (SDRY) cheapened 8.4% to 228p despite announcing that it had made a profit in the first half of the year as lower revenue was offset by an improvement in margins as the fashion retailer increased prices.

For the 26-week period from 25 April 2021 to 23 October 2021, pre-tax profit was £4 million compared with a loss of £18.9 million last year, while revenues fell 1.9% year-on-year and 24.9% on a two-year basis.

‘The emergence of the Omicron variant has resulted in more uncertainty’, conceded Superdry, though the retailer remains ‘encouraged the brand is clearly resonating with consumers, reflected by the strong gross margin performance as we returned to a full-price stance. Our performance over the peak trading period has given us confidence that we will achieve current market expectations for FY22 adjusted PBT.’

AROUND THE MARKET

Elsewhere, logistics specialist Wincanton (WIN) accelerated 12% to 391p on news of a strong third quarter and an upgrade to full year profit guidance.

Clay and concrete building products manufacturer Ibstock (IBST) improved 2.1% to 206.4p after announcing that full year profit is set to be ‘modestly’ ahead of its previous guidance following strong trading in the final quarter.

Recruitment and professional services company Parity (PTY:AIM) said rallied 11% to 7.5 after reporting that it had ‘marginally exceeded’ market expectations for the full year following its decision to refocus the business around its core recruitment offering.

And Artisanal Spirits (ART:AIM) bubbled up 1.6% to 95p on news the online whisky seller expects to report full year revenue of around £18 million for 2021, up from £15 million in 2020, which is ‘comfortably ahead’ of market expectations with both UK and international sales growing by around 20%.

A list of FTSE 100 index movers can be seen here.

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Issue Date: 20 Jan 2022